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The Meeple Guild: Games don't always hold their lustre

Over time, when you play a game over, and over and over, you begin to realize its inherent weaknesses.
Othello is a great game, but it has its secrets that can detract from the game too.

YORKTON - When you get together to game as an evening winds down you will often find yourself slipping into discussions about what games are the best.

If you were the bug on the wall watching us you would think making a list, even just mental ones, was a sort of game in itself, and you might just be right in that assertion.

It does seem to take root in the games one plays, in particular the ones you tend to reach for most often, and indication of favouritism in the simple action of the selection.

But over time, when you play a game over, and over and over, you begin to realize its inherent weaknesses. Repeated play I suppose is a natural winnowing process for board games. Only the very best hold their allure over the very long term, or they find a way to keep you interested.

For example, Othello is a great game. I love it. There is a world organization and championship held. It has stayed relevant on a very large stage, which is impressive for a game with roots back into the late 1880s, but you learn pretty quickly you want to be first to a corner if at all possible. It can be limiting in that regard for some.

A more recent example is Azul, which only came out in 2017, but with more than 100K owners on Board Game Geek, it is one of the top ranked abstract games on the site.

It is a game with a lot to like, from easy set up, to simple rules, to bright look, and so we have played it a lot since it arrived as a Yule gift in December. The more you play a game the more its secrets are revealed.

In Azul you score in various ways, both in-game, and at game’s end. The biggest points come for a vertical row of five at game’s end, and so in-game establishing those lines is the most obvious path to victory. You can try other paths, but on average it’s all about vertical lines.

Does that lessen Azul’s appeal?

Likely, because it leaves one feeling like the game offers options, but those options are more for show than expected success.

Similarly, we have to look at Dominion, a game that likely makes the top-10 all time of at least a couple of Meeple Guilders.

It is a game with a lot of options. There is an array of 10 cards in each game selected from a bunch of options – we do it randomly – so you always feel you are searching for the best combos.

But wait, what if you basically ignore the cards and simply buy more and more cash until you can turn that wealth into the coveted victory cards?

Yes, in the end that is never a bad strategy, because it works often, and almost always keeps you in the hunt to win.

If Dominion’s best strategy is a cash race, is it really an elite game?

Probably not, but at least Dominion has tried to offset the situation with a plethora of expansions that keep it fresher, although cash remains a rather viable win path throughout.

So what are the top 10 best games?

That is a question that the answer relies on what criteria one imparts on the question. For example, there is a huge different between best game, and favourite game.

I, for example, recognize Go for its ancient brilliance and it easily makes the best games list, but I am terrible at the game, and no one locally to play with, so I can’t say it is a favourite.

If one set up a Venn Diagram of my best and favourite lists which would be in the overlap area?

As I write this, crokinole, Hive, cribbage, Magic: The Gathering and Tak, although if asked next week that might change as game lists are at best a fickle thing.

And, we might play another game and find its limitations suddenly becoming glaringly clear, forever changing how we view that game.