With the loss of Mayfair Games I was looking through the list of games they had helped bring to tables and was in awe of the sheer number of quality games. Hours of fun contained in those boxes. Despite the games transferring to Asmodee I still feel a sense of loss in the marketplace. My biggest fear is that if the majority of board games are being published by fewer and bigger publishers we will lose diversity in our games and a more generic style will dominate as sales become the core business. I am sure there is a discussion here for another time, but right now I thought I would offer my top Mayfair games that still warrant play time. Now not all of these games are direct publications, but Mayfair has had the licence to them at some time or had a hand in the selection and distribution.While licences such as Cosmic Encounters are with other publishers I think it is worth noting their involvement in the industry over their life-time.
This is not the first time Nippon Rails has appeared on one of my "top of" lists. It is a great track laying/ pick up and deliver game. This just might be because there are so few good pick up and deliver games, but I think it is a genuinely challenging game. As part of the crayon series, you draw the track on the board as you play. It’s not perfect by any means and can be subject to people struggling to get going if they mismanage their money early on. However, this is a minor concern in what becomes an epic race to secure a line that best allows you to fulfil orders. I have a special spot for this game as it was the first game I reviewed for this website.
This is a simple game that rewards risk-taking and hand management. The goal is to have the lowest score at the end of the game. You have a set of tokens and a deck in the centre of the table numbered from 3-35. The top card of the deck is turned over. On your turn, you may take the card on top of the deck. Each card you take means you score that number of points. If you do not want the card you can place one of your tokens on the card. If you do not have any tokens you must take the card. This means that tokens accumulate on that card and the person who does end up taking the card also gets those tokens. As the tokens build up some of those higher numbers start to look enticing. The twist is that if you can collect a straight of numbers, such as 10, 11, 12, 13, you will only score the lowest card in a straight. Knowing when to take cards is as much a part of the strategy as knowing when to place a token. This is such an easy fun game to play it suits multiple ages.
Bang the Dice game supplanted the original Bang for me, but it still deserves a mention. I loved how this game implemented a mechanic that was based entirely how players sit around a table. It mattered if you were one, two or more spaces away from me. The game was subject to dragging on sometimes, but for the most part, could provide a fun interactive experience. For a take that game, it didn’t seem nasty or require you to be horrible and pick on any one person. The dice game sorted any issues had with the card game but the original version now has so much support I wouldn’t mind going back and having another play.
Another quick card game, this is just an easy filler that works with any group. It has a deduction, hidden role, and a little more than a bit of luck mixed in for good measure. As dwarves, you are trying to mine for gold, but the saboteur is trying to stop you. The track laying in this game is not necessarily an easy process which helps protect the saboteur from being immediately obvious. This is a fun quick game.
A nice return for Uwe Rosenberg to the smaller games he was originally known for before designing giants like Agricola and Puerto Rico. A great two player game where you are trying to make a patchwork quilt. The theme does not immediately stand out as an exciting concept for a board game. However, the game-play is exceptional and its popularity has resulted in a few follow up games such as Indian Summer. You take Tetris shaped bits of quilt and try to fit them onto a player board. It is very simple in concept but a nice puzzle to play and strangely addictive. You can download it as an app now.
Catan Star Trek
My favourite Catan game without a doubt. Yes, me being a big Star Trek fan may influence my call on this but I do love the game. The character roles as an added feature were amazing. The best part for me is that Catan’s non-combative gameplay (excepting the robber mechanic) only adds to the feel of space exploration. I have a lot of fun playing this game and wish I could get it to see more play.
One of the best take that style games ever made. The design for Cosmic Encounter is one often studied. As Cosmic Encounter designer Peter Olotka is reputed as saying, “balance is for wimps”. What he argues is that games that are really balanced can be great, but not a lot of fun. Cosmic Encounter is definitely fun. Ridiculous powers and the ability to metagame and negotiate, and betray, this game has just enough of everything it needs. Because of the metagame element learning to play the player is just as important as playing the game. Certainly one for the collection.
Isle of Skye
Isle of Skye garnered a lot of buzz when it was released and I believed for good reason. This game combined bidding with tile laying, point scoring, and just a dash of world building. Isle of Skye incorporates a multifaceted scoring track that ensures each game will incentivise different styles of play and provide unique experiences. A lot of fun and pretty to look at.
Tigris and Euphrates
Possibly my favourite abstract game this a classic Reiner Knizia that has stood the test of time. You are trying to expand your kingdom in this brilliant area control game. The depth of play in this game does make it vulnerable to the usual problem for players who suffer from analysis paralysis, however, I won't let that stop me having a play. One of the amazing parts of this game is that you have four leader tokens representing different parts of your civilization. To score points your leader token needs to be on the board connected to other tiles with that symbol. Each leader will earn victory points based on the number of tiles connected to it with the same symbol. Only the lowest point you score out of the four leaders will be your overall score and the other three scores are discarded. This stops players using dominant strategies or focussing on just one leader. The game does not have a lot of the pizzazz of modern gaming, but it certainly has depth of play.
Lords of Vegas
My favourite game from Mayfair without a doubt. From legendary designers James Earnest, and Mike Selinker, Lords of Vegas is an area control game with dice. The game has it's own interesting scoring mechanic where you must meet a threshold of points during scoring rounds to advance along the points tracker. This slows down runaway leaders and can result in some interesting power plays. I love how this game uses gambling as a way of risk/reward. It can help swing the game but is not essential to engage with. Lots of fun with this game.
This is some of the games I love, but I know there are still many titles I am even yet to play... a sad loss indeed.