Jim.Gamer: “What are your top 3 games of all time?”
Favouritefoe: “3? Of all time? Eh?”
No. No. No.
Every synapse is firing. Every chemical is rushing. Every heartbeat is thudding.
Jim’s question overwhelms me. Suffocates me. Like drowning in warm yogurt, the sharp tang of inquisition is hidden beneath layers of sweet, enticing temptation.
You see, anxiety is a sticky, tricky beast on the best of days. Faced with alienating 99% of the cardboard inhabitants on my Kallax in a single feature, the doubt dragon is licking my face and clicking its claws along to King Midas in Reverse, anticipating my abject failure.
Can I wriggle free or should I just sink under the weight of responsibility? Can I lawyer this situation and find a loop-hole or, and just for the sake of playing Devil’s advocate, can I give an answer?
Now, Jim is a kind man but one not to be crossed when it comes to rules. As such, I am gearing up for fight rather than flight. Favouritefoe v decision. Excuses locked away for another day, Queensbury rules be damned. Getting three games locked down is going to be a dirty, street brawl but I will take the hits. I will succeed.
And if I don’t. I’ll try again.
Thames & Kosmos (2012)
Targi has affectionately been described to me as a “marriage tester”. Having revealed my own sandy shenanigans here on WBG when playing it with my husband, I can see their point!
This game is a crushingly competitive duel in the desert. It is everything I want in a two player tussle. It also has one of the most unique euro, worker placement mechanisms I have come across in my board gaming journey.
For anybody who hasn’t played, armed with only three meeples each, the race is on for players to trade goods and build 4 x3 tableaus of tribe cards which reward victory points as well as in-game and end-game bonuses. But Targi is an exercise in latex-pants-level tightness when it comes to game play. Choices are not only restricted by your opponent, but also by the game itself; the “robber” and the circumscribed moves working together to force difficult, determinative decisions and trade-offs from the very first move.
This game is so exquisitely tense that it makes my analysis paralysis slap me up sideways. It is a boa-constrictor in cardboard box form. But I love it. I love the way my husband’s eyebrow arches when he places his meeples, take-that style. I love the way I ball my fists when he takes the one tribe card he knows I want – looking casual but as a consequence of cold, hard calculation. And, whilst I may not be able to look at him as the dust settles over our final scores, once the box has been packed away, we are laughing and plotting our next Saharan showdown on the ceiling, Queen’s Gambit style!
Ultimately, Andreas Steiger has designed a game which is sand-in-your-sandwiches crunchy, and I have never been happier to have my brain exfoliated from the inside out. Chatting with him on Instagram recently, I unashamedly pleaded with him to bring out a sequel to this Tuareg tour de force. On that basis, if you see Targi Two appearing on Thames & Kosmos’ release sheet any time soon, you’re welcome 😉
Flatout Games and AEG
Cats, quilts, claws! Calico is a game of purrrrfect proportions which captivated me from the moment I pulled the beautiful, chunky components from their box. Having waxed lyrically about this game before, it encapsulates so many of my favourite board game elements; tile laying, abstract strategy, personal objectives, hate drafting, and, ultimately, a puzzle to be solved.
Denied the honour of giving dominion over our humble abode to a superior, feline auto-cat, I indulge my own predilection for pussy cats through Calico. A task made magnificently simple thanks to beautiful artwork by the talented illustrator, Beth Sobel.
But whilst this game may look cute and cuddly, underneath that cosy quilt lies a sharp puzzle which is as adaptable as the mood of the player(s) in front of it. If I am feeling like an all-out cat fight, this game allows me to hate-draft my opponents into oblivion. But on days when I want company without interference, it works almost like a multiplayer solitaire, each of us focusing on the process of picking and placing tiles in a shared meditation.
The attention to detail in the design follows through into its comprehensive solo campaign. Here, I lose myself as often and for as long as I need in order to find myself again. Practising my own skills in balancing options and decision making without time pressure. Reaping the rewards of placement commitment through myriad buttons, kittens, as well as achieving an overall sense of calm.
Although it was a close call between Azul Summer Pavilion and Calico for a place in my top 3, the ability to set the cat amongst my anxiety disorder pigeons solo style means that this game will always hold a podium position.
No??? Oh ok, it was worth a try.
No.1. Numero uno. First place. Top dog. Eep.
Alright. Here goes.
#1 Railroad Ink
Confession time: board gaming is my hard-core addiction. Although I am only a year into the hobby proper, I am an all-in, badge wearing, super fan and I have no intention of going clean. I need a hit every few hours or I start to get the shakes.
In another lifetime, I might have space and time to set out large sprawling immersive games, dipping in and out whenever the itch starts. For now, however, that sweet gaming serving has got to be fast and it’s got to be satisfying. Hit me hard. Hit me now!
A phone app is ok as a snack. Likewise, an online battle can be a bigger bite. But they’re no cardboard candy. What really gets my board game pulse quickening and my palms itching for a fix is a good roll and write. And this new generation are a breed apart. Fleet the Dice Game, Cartographers, Rajas The Dice Charmers, Troyes Dice……even On Tour. These aren’t fluff pieces. These are big games parading in portable, colourful, versatile form. They have strategy, they have crunch, and they can stand on their own merits. No longer mere flip and fill-ers between more meaty mouthfuls.
But, having established my lust for all things laminated, deciding which one would I play over and above all others and other games generally was an excruciating exercise.
For example, Metro X, a game where you have to cross off stations on subway lines, has a special place in my collection. It has been the beginning of beautiful gaming friendships; the recommendation, the anticipation, the playing, and the reflection all forming the basis of enduring human connections.
Likewise, Welcome To Your Dream Home, where you take on the role of architects building out a fantasy town, was an exercise in trust between myself and a friend, and has proven to be the best shelf-of shame surprise ever. The variety, accessibility, and replayability of that flipping brilliant game (not to mention the numerous expansions) makes it one I can see me keeping forever.
Notwithstanding these worthy contenders, however, one game in particular rose to the top. Because of its place as the first game in my hobby collection. Because of its versatility and accessibility. Because of the special, magical moments shared between us on loud days and lighter nights, my heart will always beat faster for Railroad Ink. This unsuspecting little puzzle about making roads and railways has captivated me and, as my love letter to it reveals, this is an affair without end.