A few weeks ago, I got inspired to make a return visit to pubmeeple.com. Pub Meeple has a lots of interesting board game related things on their website, from custom box inserts to a podcast. But my favorite feature is their “top 9 generator.” Basically, Pub Meeple can access your board game collection from boardgamegeek.com. Then, it presents you with two games from your collection and you select one using whatever criteria you want. I used which one I liked more, but you could rank them based on art quality, box size, or even rulebook comprehensibility. The site continues to feed you pairs of games from your collection until you have ranked them all.
I ranked every game in my collection (with a few exceptions: I excluded games I’ve never played and escape room games like “Exit”) based on how much I like them. This ranking incorporates theme, aesthetics, mechanics, and plain-old fun. I don’t plan to write about every entry on my list, but I think it might be fun to look at my top and bottom 9 games. We’ll start with the bottom 9: the games that are still on my shelf even though I rarely (if ever) want to play them.
Chris’ Bottom 9
#9 – T.I.M.E Stories
Oh yeah, we’re starting off with a hot take! When T.I.M.E Stories was first announced, I was over the moon with anticipation. The elegantly beautiful box art and the fascinating modular game design had me hooked from the first word. But the game released at a rough time for me, and I couldn't afford it. But a year or so later a close friend gave it to me as a present, and we eagerly jumped in to the base game scenario.
If you haven’t played, T.I.M.E Stories is a cooperative exploration game where the players are sent back in time to inhabit host bodies located near a temporal crisis event. Your job is to uncover the mystery and save the time line. If the players run out of time, they can try again armed with knowledge from their first attempt. It's normal to run out of time on your first attempt, so at least two tries will probably be necessary.
At first, the game was really fun. We enjoyed the ever-evolving game world and the choose-your-own adventure aspects of the game. In particular, I was really intrigued by the way you can discover shortcuts to speed up your search on subsequent attempts. It was the same feeling that drives me to play The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask over and over in search of every more efficient paths through the adventure.
But after about 90 minutes we hit a roadblock. Throughout the game, we had been searching locations for clues, keys, shortcuts, and items to help us solve the case. Now we were ready to open the final door . . . and we found that we were out of keys. Confused, we spent the rest of our allotted time exploring every extra path that we had skipped before. And every one of those just led to a dead end with dangerous monsters, but no keys.
Frustrated, we raced through our third attempt to get back to the final door. And then we noticed that many of the cards had symbols carefully hidden within the art. That was when we realized that the game wasn’t going to simply give us the key. We had to actually solve a puzzle to get through. Once we realized that, we blazed through the puzzle, got to the finale, and raced through to the ending. It was deeply unsatisfying. It just felt weird to get thrown a random escape room puzzle out of nowhere.
That being said, we had some external time pressure pushing us to finish the game as quickly as possible, so we were not in the best mindset to take our time and really think. We were expecting something more like Pandemic Legacy or Mice and Mystics, not Exit or Unlock!. A few months later, we decided to give T.I.M.E. Stories another try with the Marcy Case expansion. And the second experience was identical to the first. We got stuck because we didn’t realize that a minor art element on some of the cards was actually a puzzle we needed to solve. To make matters worse, this scenario results in an auto-fail if you get the final puzzle wrong. But we did not realize there was a puzzle, and so we ended up guessing randomly and repeatedly failing until we got it right. It took us five attempts to complete the scenario, and it left us feeling so demoralized that none of us have had any desire to pick up the game again.
Credit where credit is due: T.I.M.E. Stories' underlying design concept is creative, and I applaud Space Cowboys for trying something new. In particular, gamers with a tight budget can appreciate this "cartridge"-based structure. Instead of buying an entirely new game, you can reuse your existing components and just slot in a new scenario deck. But T.I.M.E. Stories pales in comparison to the myriad luxury games in the same genre. Mice and Mystics, Middara, King’s Dilemma, or Pandemic Legacy all offer more robust, more polished, and more tightly focused experiences. I am glad T.I.M.E. Stories exists, but I'm also lucky enough to be able to afford the premium games. T.I.M.E. Stories just isn't quite for me. Or maybe I just haven't played it with the right people yet.
Why is this game still on my shelf then? Simple: the box art. That elegant, pure white background and the lens flare glancing off the time machine utterly captivates my imagination despite everything else. I’m in no rush to get rid of it, even if it hasn’t seen a table in over five years.
Cards Against Humanity isn’t a great game. But it’s fine. It's been around for 12 years now, and just about anyone who has played a board game (at least, anyone 15 or older) has probably played at least one game. It's so easy to pick up and play, and it reliably promises an hour or two of hilarious entertainment. And for a while, I was super into this game. I have at least eight expansions shuffled in, ranging from the holiday promo packs to the Mass Effect pack to the Bigger, Blacker Box expansion.
But, uh, it’s been a while since I’ve actually played this game. Partially that’s because many of my friends have kids now, and partially that’s because I have plenty of better party games to play instead. Also, this game was largely written 12 years ago. A lot of the jokes did not age well, and many have a tendency to punch down at marginalized groups. If you're going to play this, you might want to curate the card collection a bit to ensure everyone has a fun time.
Why is this game still on my shelf? The sunk-cost fallacy. I have so many expansions, it seems a shame to get rid of it!
#7 – Pirate Loot
I reviewed this game here just a few months ago. This was one of two Kickstarter games I backed that have not lived up to my expectations. I sold the other one several years ago, but I still had hope that Pirate Loot might turn out okay after a second attempt. Turns out: nope.
Why is this game still on my shelf? It won't be for much longer. I expect to sell it or give it away this summer.
#6 – Slap .45 Mini
A few years ago, I bought Cards Against Humanity's "10 Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa" expansion, which came with some extra random stuff. Some of it is funny, some of it is nice, and all of it is sitting in a closet somewhere, long forgotten. One of the gifts they sent was this game, which is actually a sort of miniature simplified demo of bigger game: Slap .45.
Basically, Slap .45 Mini is like a cross between Bang! and Egyptian Rat Screw or Slapjack. You and the other players have to keep an eye on which card has just been played so you can slap the correct pile of cards. It’s . . . fine? I guess? The rules felt a little too complicated for a dexterity-based card game like this one. Slapjack remains popular because it keeps things simple.
Why is this game still on my shelf? It took me a long time to finally get a chance to try it out. I expect it will leave my collection this summer.
This game is functionally the same as Cards Against Humanity, but significantly funnier. The game’s designer, Jeff Kornberg, is one of the most well-respected personalities in the hobby, and his YouTube channel "The Dragon's Tomb" is a must-watch. When he announced his first Kickstarter, I had to jump on it
While I appreciate the sense of humor Jeff imbued in his loving tribute to other adult-themed party games, the reality is that Offensive Adult Party Game lacks variety. With all of the expansions mixed in, my copy of Cards Against Humanity contains roughly 1000 unique cards. Even with all of the Kickstarter stretch goals and exclusives, Offensive Adult Party Game only has 19 cards. Each card is comedy gold, but sometimes quantity IS more important than quality.
Why is this game still on my shelf? Offensive Adult Party Game packs more jokes per minute of any game I own. And at an average play time of 1 minute, it rarely outstays its welcome.
#4 – Win, Lose, or Banana
Win, Lose, or Banana is a three-player bluffing game. To play, simply deal each of the game's three cards to each player. The player with the “win” card reveals it. The other two players must then convince the “winner” to trade cards with them. If the winner trades cards with the player who has the “banana” card, they both win. If the winner trades cards with the player who has the “lose” card, then only that player wins. This game distills bluffing to its bare minimum and I admire the elegance of the design.
That being said, I hate these types of games. There's no mechanical complexity or narrative for me to latch on to. It's just straight head-to-head bluffing and persuasion. I tried it out with a couple friends a few years ago because I rarely dismiss a game without giving it at least a couple tries. But I bounced right off, and I have had no desire to pull it out again.
Why is this game still on my shelf? It was free. There was a minor printing issue with my copy of Innovation Deluxe, and when Asmadi Games sent me the replacement cards, they packed in a copy of Win, Lose, or Banana. The game is so tiny that it hardly takes up any space, so I might as well hang onto it.
#3 – Munchkin Cthulhu
This game is a spinoff of one of my least favorite games: Munchkin. I’ve had lovely experiences reading the cards and laughing at the references to tabletop roleplaying games. But the game itself? Oof. It's a mess of awkward mechanics and aggressive “take-that” shenanigans. Games inevitably devolve into a war of attrition as everyone sits, one step away from victory, throwing every “take-that” card they’ve been holding for the past hour. Eventually, everyone runs out of supplies and whoever is lucky enough to have the next turn wins. Hooray.
Don't get me wrong, the first 30 minutes of a game of Munchkin are fun, but it overstays its welcome long before the end. The thought of playing Munchkin is significantly more fun than actually playing Munchkin.
Traditional Dungeons & Dragons offers a copious well of material for Munchkin’s japes, but there are tons of other types of roleplaying games to lovingly skewer as well. And so: Munchkin Cthulhu. Based on the ever-popular Cthulhu mythos, it is brimming with cosmic horror, mysterious cultists, and more tentacles than an all-you-can-eat calamari buffet. In fact, it released just two years after Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror 2nd Edition, so you can chalk this up as another game riding on Cthulhu’s ichor-stained coattails.
Munchkin Cthulhu is slightly more fun than the original Munchkin, in the same way that getting stabbed with a penknife knife is slightly better than getting stabbed with a Bowie knife. The only reason this game is still in my collection is that after college I left it at my parents’ house buried in a closet. Someday I'll get around to cleaning it out.
#2 – Munchkin
Surprised? Everything I wrote above still holds true. I will point out, though, that Steve Jackson games did some really fun things marketing this game. When I was in college, my local game store regularly gave out Munchkin-themed bookmarks that advertised new Munchkin expansions. But they also printed rules on them, so you could use the bookmarks during games, usually by permanently giving the bookmark to another player . I still have a few sitting in my game box. And they didn’t stop at bookmarks. I got a friend a Munchkin-themed plushie once as a Christmas present, and it too has rules for in-game use!
This series has always boasted good writing, funny jokes, and clever ideas. The only problem is that the actual game is miserable. Enough people seem to like it, though, that these games continue to sell. Well, more power to anyone who enjoys that experience. Me and my 10-foot-pole are going to continue to keep our distance.
And now, the absolute worst game in my library:
Scene It? is a series of party games that you can find in any toy or department store. It uses revolutionary technology to incorporate your TV into a board game experience: a DVD. Each player begins their turn by rolling a die to determine what type of film trivia question they have to answer. Sometimes a player will read the question out loud off of a card, other times you’ll input a command on the accompanying DVD to play the question on screen. If you get the question right, you get to roll a die and move forward. If you don’t, you stay where you are.
Each version of Scene It? uses a different library of film or TV media trivia, and I have seen versions based on the Harry Potter Series, Friends, and many, many more. I happen to have the TCM edition, which is problematic. I don’t watch TCM, I’ve seen very few “classic” films, and I have a poor memory for actors and directors. Playing this game with my friends is frustrating for everyone, and playing it with family means that I am guaranteed to lose. As trivia games go, Scene It? is okay, but there are lots of better options out there: Half Truth, Wits & Wagers, and even Trivial Pursuit all fit the bill quite well. Scene It?’s entire gimmick is the DVD, which is cute and enables slightly different types of questions. But I’m not sure it’s worth the price tag.
Why is this game still in my collection? It was a present from my aunt. She knows I love board games, and the thought was very sweet. I haven’t played it in years, but I'll probably bring it with me next time I visit her Sometimes there are other reasons to hang onto a game beyond how good or fun it is to play.
I hope you enjoyed taking a stroll through my bottom 9 games! Next time, we’re going to celebrate my top 9 games! We’ll start the New Year on a high note!