Just over a year ago our group of friends was heavily into the deck building game Dominion. It was relatively new but had been out long enough to have three quick expansions and we really couldn’t get enough of it. Some days we would play game after game for hours on end. As should be expected, we eventually burned out from that pace. After that I found myself not playing tabletop board/card games much for the next several months with the exception of finally playing Race for the Galaxy for the first time and playing Castle Ravenloft many times after its release. Thankfully, over the last two months I have noticed an extreme increase in the amount of board games that my friends and I have been playing and I want to share a few of the stand out games we’ve been enjoying.
7 Wonders was a game that I fell in love with the very first time I set eyes on it. First off I’ve taken numerous ancient history classes related to architecture and so the flavor of the game including the Colossus of Rhodes and the Mausoleum of Halikarnassus immediately hooked me. Beyond that I really enjoy the game because it uses a card drafting mechanic but avoids many of the common deck building mechanics that have become incredibly popular since Dominion took off. Don’t take that to mean 7 Wonders is a deck building game, it is actually a game where you draft a collect cards in front of you around the wonder you’re playing as.
Depending on which structure/nation you’ve chosen you have different advancements you can choose from that allow you to excel at some of the specific focuses in the game. For instance, the Colossus of Rhodes can amass more military than other wonders and at a quicker pace, and as it was the first wonder I played the game with it was a tactic I could quickly latch on to and make good use of. If you haven’t tried this game yet and you enjoy tabletop card games (or board games with card-based mechanics) it is without a doubt my top recommendation. Another great advantage is that the game easily handles up to 7 players in one game and the play time is almost always between 30 and 45 minutes.
The next game is one that I think you are less likely to have heard of, Letters from Whitechapel. This game focuses on Jack the Ripper and his escape from police through four nights after committing a murder each night. Andrew and a few of our other friends playtested the game at GenCon last year and told us about it, but it wasn’t until its recent release that I had a chance to play it. Much like with 7 Wonders, I was almost immediately hooked on this game.
The game contains a very well designed board with a map of the Whitechapel district of London from the 1800’s on it where Jack moves between numbered circles while the police move on a separate system of interconnected spaces. One player plays Jack (and everyone knows who that player is, so this isn’t a hidden traitor kind of game that you might assume it would be) and chooses one numbered circle as his secret hideout at the beginning of the game. During the first night, Jack decides when and where he makes his kill, and then he sets off towards his hideout as the police are left to investigate the crime scene and hopefully follow Jack’s trail to either catch him or determine where his hideout might be.
Game play is not fast paced, but it is extremely tense as the Jack player has a secret pad of paper where he writes down his hideout and as the turns progress which spaces he has moved through. The police players move much faster then Jack, but with a collection of 4 or more possible locations that Jack could move to on each turn, if they don’t pick up his trail quickly the possibilities for where the killer has escaped to become extremely hard to track. What interests me so much about this game is that it plays like many of the recent traitor mechanic based games that have come out lately, but everyone knows who Jack is from the beginning and the hidden information is where exactly Jack is at the moment, where he’s been, and where he is heading. Some of our friends have even become very tense while playing Jack, because you know where your trail is and have to sit there and watch as the police players move all around you and deftly try to guess where you might be.
I’m also sharing Letters from Whitechapel because it seems to be a less well known game, 7 Wonders has over 5,000 ratings on Boardgamegeek Letters only has 345 ratings. The game easily takes up to two hours, especially as some players become obsessed with investigating every single possible option (with good reason, as I discovered in one game where we messed up and lost Jack’s trail), but one of the aspects I really enjoy is that it seems to be equally fulfilling to play both a policeman and Jack, whereas in most other games of this type I have found it much more fun to be one side or another depending on the game.
Late to the Game
Puerto Rico is the second highest rated game on Boardgamegeek, it was released in 2002, and I am pretty sure I played it for the first time in 2010. In much the same vein, Agricola is the third highest rated game (just behind Puerto Rico) and though it was released in 2007 I had not played it until last week. Both of these games feature farming style themes and what I can only think of as “fields and workers” type mechanics, but what really struck me about Agricola was the feeling of having a multitude of options open to you but a very limited amount of time to do them. The game also scores based on variety and quantity so while the primary strategies may not have been clear to start with the balance between specialization and diversity is something that I really enjoy in board games.
Another element that I really enjoyed about Agricola is that each player draws a hand of farm improvements and professions which give you a wide variety of different specializations, so depending on which cards you draw in each game your focuses may change. I personally enjoyed how the combinations of some of the improvements and professions could lead to interesting and very effective strategies that would not have been present without specific cards available to you. While I enjoyed the turn-to-turn card selection style of professions in Puerto Rico, I found that expanding your family in Agricola and having access to more actions each turn was a new and interesting style of play for me. The number of turns between harvests gets shorter as the game progresses but if you expand your house and family then the balance of turns and actions adds a lot of new factors that I really enjoyed.
If you favor yourself as a board game fan and you haven’t played Puerto Rico or Agricola, then I can assure you that their standings on Boardgamegeek are not an accident. As if you need me to tell you that when Puerto Rico has over 23,000 ratings and Agricola has just shy of 19,000 ratings. That many people are rarely wrong about things like this, especially when it comes to the BGG community.
Other Games on the Table
These are the games that really inspired me to write this post, not really a review post but more of an update on what I’m currently enjoying in tabletop gaming and hopefully I’ve introduced you to at least one new and great game that you will enjoy. Beyond those already mentioned I’m also getting back into constructing decks for Magic: The Gathering for the first time in roughly 10 years. We’ve also been playing the D&D board games Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon fairly regularly, and Power Grid is always a favorite that sees play as often as we can sit down for a longer game of it.
If you have some other recent board games (or top rated ones) that you’ve been enjoying, please share in the comments!