What are my top 20 games of all time? – Ask The Bellhop

Pretty much everyone asks,

What are your favourite games?

Since I launched Tabletop Bellhop the question I get asked the most is some variation of this question. What’s your favourite deck builder? Do you think Concordia is the best game ever? What’s your top 5/10/25? With our 10th episode of Tabletop Bellhop Live coming up this week I thought this would be a good time to finally give an answer to this question.

This is also a follow up to last week, where I talked about my favourite game mechanics. I thought that would lead well into this.

We also covered this top 20 list on episode 10 of the Tabletop Bellhop Live Podcast.

Disclosure: Some links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

A bit of background

I get it. I understand why this is one of the first questions people ask other gamers. You want to know how much we have in common. Do we like the same kind of games? What kind of gaming experience do I have? Can you trust me as a source of gaming information? Are we on the same page? Basically, am I worth reading/listening to?

I know I choose which podcasts I listen to based on the preferences of the hosts. If there’s a show where the hosts are really into social deduction games and party games, that’s probably not a show I am going to enjoy listening to. It just makes sense that other people would do the same.  So below you will find my list, and I hope through it you get a better idea of what kind of gamer I am and that you decide I’m worth listening to. 😀

How I made this list

A few things should be noted before I get into these 20 games. First off, my tastes change. Almost daily. There is often some game, that I normally love to play that I may just not be in the mood for or I will suddenly get a very strong urge to play a game that has been in my collection for 10 years that I haven’t touched in 8. Either of those games could become my new favourite for a while, only to be replaced by something else the next week. So this list is 20 games that are my top games right now. If I remade this list tomorrow it would probably swap up a bit. Not a lot, but it wouldn’t be identical. Which brings me to the next part: this isn’t really in any specific order.

I used Board Game Ranking Engine (BGRE) to generate this list. I took my boardgamegeek collection, exported it to excel, then cut down the list so it only contained games I rated 7 or better. Then I removed any expansions and imported that list to BGRE. Then I let the tool do it’s work picking between two games for far too long until it gave me a list. I used the top 20 games on that list to create this one.

My top 20 games as of right now:

Terraforming Mars – This is a card based, engine building game where players play competing corporations trying to make the most fame while terraforming Mars. I’ve said many times over the last few week that Terraforming Mars may be the best game in my collection. It’s one that I just keep coming back to over and over again. Every time I pack for game night at the FLGS I bring my copy of Terraforming Mars. On Board Game Geek a 10 rating means Outstanding. Always want to play and don’t expect that to change. This perfectly fits how I feel about Terraforming Mars right now. I have never said no to a play of this game.

One of the things that makes Terraforming Mars great is how scalable it is. Just in the core box you get a quick basic game that can be played in a bit over an hour with experienced players. Then there’s the Corporate Wars variant rules that nearly double the amount of cards in the game and also nearly doubles the game play length. Using the Corporate Wars rules leads to much slower build and more strategic play. There’s also a lot more “take that”. Where the game really shines is when you add drafting to the Corporate Wars rules.  This again adds time to the game but it’s so worth it. If you don’t have time though, or if you have a new player you can always remove the additional cards, or up everyone’s starting production and greatly shorten the game time and complexity.

Azul – If you have been following along with the podcast or reading the week in reviews here on the blog you know I play a lot of Azul. I played last night after finishing a scenario in Gloomhaven. Azul is easily my most played game in 2018 and the way it’s going, it will be my most played game of all time.

Azul is an abstract tile drafting, pattern building game that is very easy to teach and just as easy to learn. I know simple to learn difficult to master is overused, but it fully applies here. Added to this, Azul just looks amazing. As an added bonus the fact there’s no central board means that the game is highly portable. One of the things my wife and I love about Azul is the ability to play it almost everywhere. We bring it on trips and out on date nights. It is also rare to find a game that plays exactly as well at all player counts.

Shogun/Wallenstein – I group these two games together because they are basically the same game with two different themes and maps. The mechanics are identical. Both versions are medieval folk on a map (cubes), area control, games that use programmed movement, auctions, variable turn order, hand management, resource management and one of the best combat resolution mechanics ever: The Cube Tower.

I have been in love with this series of games since playing a copy of the original German version of Wallenstein at a friends house. My friend had done some print and play work so we had English versions of most of the cards. I loved the way that combat between players was only part of the game. Building up your provinces with Temples, Theaters and Castles, and trying to figure out where to tax is just as important as where you are attacking. Then there’s that brilliant cube tower, where you never know exactly what is going to fall out due to seeding the tower with cubes from all the players at the beginning of the game. Even writing about this game now is making me want to play again, soon.

Keyflower – In Keyflower players attempt to turn their small starting village into a colony over four seasons. Worker placement is combined with a very unique auction mechanic based on the colours of the workers. Here we have an engine building game where your engine builds as you bid for more tiles and add those to your personal colony. Using resource management, often involving some pick up and deliver, you upgrade your tiles to be more efficient or be worth more points. There are so many different mechanics all working in harmony here that I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few. Sometimes putting this many different things into a game ruins it, but it works here.

If you like light games don’t even consider looking at Keyflower. While not the heaviest game I own, this one is not for beginners. My only real complaint with the game is trying to teach it for the first time. Both expansions are also excellent, one adding breadth and the other adding depth.

Race for the Galaxy – A 4x game in card form. Players expand their space empire in this card driven, hidden action selection, engine building game. With just the base game you don’t really get any Extermination but once you add the first three expansions you get to experience all of the four Xs; eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate.

I love Race for the Galaxy. I really do. I have owned this game for 11 years and I’m still not sick of it. I’ve played it over 50 times, and I’m still not sick of it. I mostly now play on Board Game Arena but my physical copy sees play now and then as well. One of the things with Race is that it gets better with system mastery. Playing with someone else who knows the cards and the potential combos is a true joy. This is another game that plays great at all player counts.

There is one big problem with Race for the Galaxy: teaching the game. So many icons. A ridiculous number of icons. Plus there is the whole two different types of consume actions that always trip up new players. I admit, I hate teaching this game, but man do I love playing it.

Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure – Sneak into the dragon’s lair, grab as much loot as you can, make sure you get at least one artifact, and get back out before you make too much noise (Clank) and get caught by the dragon.

There are a lot of deck building games out there, and I’m a fan of most of them. When I said Clank! is the best I have played, that shouldn’t be taken lightly. There is something about this game that just keeps me coming back for more. Part of that is nostalgia. To me Clank! is a re-make of a classic Games Workshop game called Dragon Quest. Back in my teens I loved Dragon Quest. Some of the first miniatures I ever painted were from Dragon Quest. I loved the tension of exploring that dungeon and even more so the stress of drawing those dragon tiles once you had stolen some loot. I get that same joy and feeling from Clank! but with solid modern mechanics.

RoboRally – Bored robots in a factory decide to host a race. That’s the silly premise behind RoboRally. This game has come out in many different editions and each has changed the game in significant ways. In all forms RoboRally is a card driven, programmed hidden movement, race game where players play cards in sequence to determine how their robot moves. The first robot to hit a certain number of check points wins the game. The track is made up of crazy factory floors filled with conveyor belts, crushers, lasers and other hazards. RoboRally is the perfect mix of silly fun and tactical programming.

Of all of the different versions of RoboRally out there I’m still the biggest fan of the original Wizards of the Coast edition with it’s virtual robots and all.

The Duke – An abstract strategy game that is very similar to chess, where the way the pieces move is listed on the tiles themselves and after you move a tile it flips over and the moves available change.

I love this game. For many years we kept a copy of The Duke in my car and anytime my wife and I found ourselves anywhere with some time and a table we played The Duke. We played it at bars, restaurants, pubs, hotels, the movie theater, and more. The entire game is one board with a 6×6 grid and two bags of tiles. It’s one of the smallest footprints of any game I own.

Actual game-play is fantastic. This is the most chess like game I own, but I find it way more enjoyable than chess. I’m not sure if it’s having to remember how every piece moves, the random factor of pulling new tiles from a bag or the fact that my win ratio on The Duke is crazy high on the win side, but I never get sick of The Duke. Even if I did get bored with it, I’ve got a ton of expansion tiles that I haven’t even bothered to try yet.

Alien Frontiers – Planetary colonization for two to four players. Alien Frontiers is a dice based, worker placement, resource management, area control, point salad of a game. Your workers are ships and these ships are represented by dice. Roll them and the numbers rolled determine which actions you can take. Generate resources, spend those for more ships or to fund colonies. Research technologies to mitigate bad die rolls, improve production or hinder your opponents. Control areas of the planet to gain special powers. Do all this while raking in points. Be the person with the most points when someone plays their last colony on the board to win.

There aren’t many games I would call Tight. What I mean by tight is that the game seems extremely well balanced and tested. Everything that is in the game is there for a reason. Every mechanic just fits and works like it feels like it should. Alien Frontiers is a Tight Game. As long as you don’t add any of the expansions. So far, with every expansion I have tried for this game I found the base game to be more enjoyable.

Orleans – Collect your workers; scholars, farmers, merchants, knights and monks, and use them to construct buildings, learn science, form trade routes and fill the seats of government in medieval France. Orleans combines bag building with worker placement in a really magical way. Ever since my first play of this game I have been shocked by just how much fun I have playing it and how much joy I feel in the engine I have built.

To me, some of the best games are games where you can never do everything that you want to. You never have quite enough resources or enough actions. I’m also a fan of point salad games, where you can get points for a wide variety of actions. Orleans takes both of these concepts to the next level, almost making it an art-form. You can’t do all the things, so it’s about optimizing what you do to generate the most points and there are lots of options for doing that.

Anachrony– Post apocalyptic time travel euro-game where you can send yourself resources from the future, but make sure you actually do send them back as the timeline advances or you risk paradox. Such a unique concept, I love it. Anachrony is another mash up of popular mechanics that just works. Asymmetric player factions, using two tiered worker placement (you have workers and you have mechs, for some actions you just need workers, for others you have to put a worker in a mech), to build an engine to generate enough fame to control the future timeline, with a big bonus in points if you can excavate the Capital before a meteor strikes it.

Besides the very cool theme, one of the things I love about Anachrony is that it is way simpler than it looks. It looks like a HEAVY euro, but the game builds slowly over it’s 4-7 turns. At the start of the game, players only have access to a handful of simple to learn actions. Through those actions new worker placement spots will develop and the complexity will ramp up. At no point does it feel overwhelming. The expansion is almost a must have just for the plastic mecha minis that the cardboard workers fit into.

Bruges – Compete with other merchants in the city of Bruges for influence, power and status. Players do this through multi-use cards that can each be used for one of six actions. Bruges is a card driven, drafting, action selection, point salad, that has a few dice driven mechanics tossed in for fun. While trying to build their own engine, players also have to work through dramatic devastating events that reflect some of the real world hardship the city of Bruges went through.

I love Stefan Feld point salad games. What I love about this particular one is that it’s a fast point salad game. Lightning fast. Under an hour with experienced players fast. The best part is that even in that short a play time you get a nice heavy game experience. The variety of options and potential card interactions really ups the weight in Bruges. This one is still pretty new to my collection but I’m loving every minutes of brain burn-y goodness so far.

Onitama – Defeat the opposing martial arts school either through The Way of the Stone (capturing your opponent’s master) or The Way of the Stream (getting your own master into your opponents temple). Onitama is a perfect information, chess-like, abstract strategy game for two players.

As you can probably tell from this list, I like my two-player games quick and portable. Onitama fits both of these categories. It is very similar to The Duke, which makes me enjoying it just make sense. Pieces move based on cards, and each game there are only five cards in play. Each player starts with two moves and after they make a move they give that move to their opponent. It’s a truly brilliant system that works so well. This one is easy enough to teach that I have been playing it with Big G since she was 8 (and I probably could have started younger).

Egizia – Players are competing builders in ancient Egypt. Each season they travel down The Nile to collect resources and workers to build different monuments requested by the Pharaoh. Egizia was one of the first games I played that uses worker placement with a time track where when you place a worker on a spot on the Nile your next worker has to be placed further down the track. You cannot go backwards. I loved this mechanic when I first experienced it. Egizia also includes drafting, engine building and area control and an almost RPG like leveling system for your workers.

If any game deserves a new printing it’s Egizia. I love showing this game off to new players, but I’m always sad when they get excited by it and then can’t actually get themselves a copy due to it being out of print for so long. Now I know many people that say Francis Drake is a better version of this game, and I just don’t see it. I actually went and bought a copy of Francis Drake the last time I heard this and I’ve played it a handful of times and I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as any game I’ve played of Egizia.

Concordia – Trading in the Mediterranean. I had to have at least one game on this list with the Euro theme to end all Euro themes didn’t I?

What I dig about Concordia is that it’s a Roman game but set during a peaceful period in Roman history. This 2-5 player game is all about economic development and strategic card play. You wouldn’t expect it at first glance but Concordia uses deck building as one of its main mechanics. Players all start with an identical deck of cards each of which allows them access to specific actions. As cards are played the number of actions becomes more limited. One of the actions allows you to draft more cards into your deck and another action allows you to pick up and re-shuffle your cards. There’s one other big part of this, the cards you have at the end of the game determine what you score points on. There is far too much going on in this game to even try to cover it all here, just know that it all works brilliantly together and every game feels very different from the last.

Hamsterrolle – I am a sucker for a good dexterity game and Hamsterrolle is one of the best out there. Players take turns placing various shaped wooden pieces onto a fairly large wooden wheel. This wheel has irregularly shaped slats on it and when pieces are placed the wheel will roll. If any pieces fall out as the wheel turns, the player who’s turn it is must collect them. The first player to play all their pieces wins.

My only real complaint about Hamsterrolle is that it only plays four players. This game always manages to draw a crowd whenever I bring it out and I’ve found that players of all level of skill can have fun playing this one. The best part though is that there is some actual strategy in choosing which pieces to play and where, you don’t get that a lot from dexterity games which are usually only about physical skill.

PitchCar – Indy car racing on wooden tracks using Crokinole pieces. Need I say more?

Pitchcar was the game that convinced me that I actually like Dexterity games. When my friend Jamie first broke this out at a local event I was skeptical, but after one or two flips I was hooked. I’ve had more laughs with this game than any other in my collection. To me it’s one of the best games to combine with adult beverages but is also just as fun to play with kids. While the base set is fun, adding in some of the expansion packs makes the game even better. The only problem: this game is not cheap, but it’s so worth it.

Concept – Word guessing game that uses a big board of icons for the players to give clues. First thing to do in this game is toss out the scoring. Don’t consider it a game consider it an activity.

I don’t generally like party games. I don’t tend to buy party games. I own maybe five party games. But I love Concept. I don’t know what it is about this game. I guess it has to be the way you give clues by doing things like indicating the main concept and sub concepts through putting tokens onto the board which is filled with tons of icons.

The way we play is that the person who guesses the clue gets to do the next one, we have them draw a card and pick any of the four things on there. We continue until we get sick of playing. One night we played 72 rounds in a row. It may have been New Years and there may have been beer involved.

Power Grid – Build a power empire by buying power plants and expanding your power grid across the map and providing electricity to as many cities as possible. The first player to provide power to a predetermined number of cities wins. Power Grid is a fantastic game. If I had created this list 10 years ago it would have been on here, probably at the top. 10 years later I still think of this as one of the best games I own and one I’m always willing to play. Power Grid has one of the most iconic auction systems in gaming. Many games that have come out since use the “Power Grid Auction.” Combine the best auction system on the market with resource management, route building and enough economics that the game is sometimes called “Spreadsheet the board game” and you have a winner for me. Plus if you think this is mathy, try out Factory Manager.

Hansa Teutonica – Players are traders trying to build the Hanseatic League in medieval Germany, by building a network of offices, controlling cities and collecting bonuses in this surprisingly quick Euro.

Maybe it’s the new hotness for me. I only discovered this game about a month ago and instantly fell in love. Maybe it won’t stay on this list for long but right now I am really enjoying Hansa Teutonica. It’s right up there with Bruges in that thinky but somehow also short play space. What this has on Bruges is that it’s a much nastier game. Much more cutthroat, with players bumping other players and cutting them off being the main mechanisms. There are only five possible actions in Hansa but those are combined into a beautiful point salad. What routes to build and when to build them leads to a huge decision tree. I expect I will continue to enjoy and play this game for a long time.

That’s all folks

There you have it. My top 20 games as of right now. Even looking at this list myself, I feel there are games missing. Where’s Core Worlds or Food Chain Magnate? Those are two of my favourite games. Why didn’t they make the cut? Well, Board Game Ranking Engine doesn’t lie. At least I don’t think it does.

Of course my next question is: so what are your top 20 games of right now?

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