Heya Heya everybody! It’s that time of the week where I present to you, the good people of Gamedom, with a list, and not just any list, this week I’ve created my definitive list of the top 10 best abstract games money can buy. As usual, this is just this humble fox’s opinion based on the games I’ve played and enjoyed and of course there are a great many contenders that almost made this list; if only this were a top 20 instead right? Let's go!
Tsuro is a 2-8 player tile laying game where players create paths in an attempt to force their opponents off the edge of the board, while avoiding that same fate themselves. Fast, simple, intuitive, low on complexity but with a decent layer of strategy to keep players thinking. Tsuro makes an ideal introduction to abstract games and appeared on my top 10 games for beginners in large part due to its accessibility and it’s forgiving learning curve. Like most abstract games, players are on a level playing field from the beginning, so the outcome relies on their own decision making. If you win, you know it’s because you got yourself there.
The island of Santorini is famous for its blue domed buildings and alabaster cubiform architecture. The board game of Santorini captures this visual style and wraps it around a solid abstract strategy game that incorporates Greek mythology and legend. Players are tasked with developing the island of Santorini by placing buildings and moving their workers around the city, incorporating elements of area control and worker placement into a fun, attractive board game. The board is raised, forming a 3 dimensional playing space representing the high cliffs surrounding the island and setting the scene as players begin placing the white plastic buildings and adding levels on the grassy plateau. Visually Santorini is a feast for the eyes and the gameplay is fun and uncomplicated, a great addition to any gamer’s collection.
While there are currently three individual games brandishing the Azul name, the first is my favourite, and I seem not to be alone in thinking this. Azul is a 2-4 player tile drafting game in which players are attempting to create sets of colourful plastic tiles drawn from a cloth bag each round, these tiles create a shared pool for that round from which each player takes four tiles at a time and try to complete sets on their player boards. Tiles that cannot be placed result in penalties at the end of the round. I like each step in this process, the tiles are chunky and have a satisfying heft to them which makes drawing them from the bag a joy. Anticipating your turn and hoping that another player doesn’t take your favoured selection from the centre first creates a fun sense of tension and the relief of being able to take the tiles you wanted or, the sudden shift in decision making if your option is not available gets my little heart pounding every time!
This next game runs the risk of being overlooked by self-professed serious gamers due to its playful colours and plastic coral pieces that have influences of Lego. However, Reef is a great abstract strategy game where players draft colourful coral and cards to create a coral reef scoring points based on the cards they’ve played. Simple, colourful and fun, Reef delivers on what it promises, and what it promises is an engaging game of drafting pieces, scoring points and having a great time all within a play window of around 30-40 minutes. The second edition of the game toned down the striking colours creating a better sense of being underwater, but whichever version of the game you play, you’re sure to have a delightful time. And did I mention it’s colourful?
In Iwari, players are vying for territory, building totems and placing tents in order to mark the territories they control. The art style and component design is amazing and placing the totems and seeing them grow gives a sense of achievement as your civilization steadily grows. Cards determine the colour of territories you can place your tents and totems and players can complete objectives or feats for extra points. Finals scores are determined by the number of tents in a given area and number of nature totems. The theme here is almost inconsequential as the abstract nature of the game doesn’t require it, but I did appreciate the care and attention of detail that went into the overall graphic design. This one is sure to draw the attention of gamers and there’s no denying it looks glorious, especially in the end game when all the totems are towering above the tiny settlements. As a game, its packs enough of a punch that I feel comfortable recommending it to new and experienced gamers alike. There’s enough depth and strategy here to keep most entertained.
Uwe Rosenburg, best known for his agriculturally themed euro games is responsible for an obscene number of the titles on gamers’ shelves nowadays. How the man finds time to design and create so many titles leads me to believe there are entire warehouses filled with Uwe clones, each set to the task of creating addictive, compelling board games. Thankfully clone #UWE2187 came up with Patchwork, a 2 player abstract tile drafting polyomino game themed around creating beautiful patchwork quilts. This game has come into its own during a time when people around the world are seeking comfort and security and the appeal of wrapping oneself in a warm blanket is undeniable. Patchwork utilises buttons as currency as players gather up their chosen pieces to lay out on their player boards. The most complete and visually appealing quilt wins the day. It’s a theme I can get on board with (pun intended, this is a board game blog!).
Ah, trees, cultivators of oxygen, givers of shade and providers of relief to canines around the world, I myself have a few trees in particular that I call friends. I never really thought much about what it takes to grow a tree, they’re always sort of just... there. But after playing Photosynthesis, I’ve grown (huhuh) to have a greater appreciation of the process involved in creating our doggie toilets. In Photosynthesis, 2-4 players compete for nutritious photons to grow their leafy woodboys, with points scored depending on the size and number of trees of the player’s colour in the forest. Sunlight plays an important role in the game, just as it does in life. The sun dial moves around the perimeter of the board casting both light and shade across the board, taller trees obscure the smaller trees behind them, denying them the life-giving sustenance they crave and preventing them from scoring that round. Choosing where to seed your trees and when is where the strategy comes in. A simple enough concept on the surface, but you run the risk of not seeing the forest for the trees. Okay, that’s enough, I’m leaving...
3. Nova Luna
I feel that more than a few of the entries on this list have been mentioned in the past, but a good game is a good game, and Nova Luna not only appeared as a Hidden Gem on Brian’s blog a few weeks ago, but I’m now finding it to be one of my favourite abstract games as well. In Nova Luna players draft tiles, which seems to be a popular mechanic in abstract games, in an attempt to create colour combinations and complete goals set out on each tile. Whenever a goal is completed, the player covers that goal with a token of their colour, the winner is the first person to use all of their tokens, and that’s it really. There’s no second, third or fourth place, you are either the winner or not. The first player to move each round is whoever is in last place on the moon tracker, this means a player can potentially have more than one turn before handing the reins to the next player. The number of spaces you move depends on which tiles you elect to take, moving spaces equivalent to the value of that tile. Games take around 30 minutes and I’ve found each game has been fast paced and enjoyable enough to keep my attention and have me anticipating my next move. The tiles you fail to get can be just as meaningful as the ones you obtain, so pay close attention. Shout out to #UWE1138 for coming up with this one!
The Sagrada Familia in Spain is famous for its inspirational design and architecture, among its wonders are its stained glass windows. Sagrada seeks to capture the beauty and creativity of these designs in the form of an abstract dice drafting game where players are given a double layered player board and a choice of two design cards, the players place their chosen card into the board and try to complete their window over the course of ten rounds. There are strict rules to dice placement, for example, no two adjacent dice can be the same colour or number, but the game gives players three tools selected at random which they can use to ‘break’ a placement rule on that turn. A great game and one I feel encapsulates the best elements of abstract games with a stunning visual style. A definite favourite of mine!
1. Tiny Towns
In Tiny Towns 1-6 players compete to build, you guessed it, an enormous village! Ha, no, they are in fact building tiny towns, just like it says on the box. Players take up the mantle of a mayor of a small woodland town, each has a board and places coloured resource cubes in specific sequences to construct buildings for the town. Resources are gained by players calling out resources, denoted by different colours, for example, yellow for wheat and blue for glass, all players must then place a cube of that type on their player board, this bingo-style mechanic results in some fun player interaction as players are all placing their cubes in different spaces on their own boards depending on their goals.
When a player has the correct shape and colour combination to build a structure, they remove the cubes they used, and place the building of that type on their player board. Points are scored based on how complete their town is and which buildings they have. Negative points are scored for empty spaces. The nature of resource placement means you have to pay close attention or you can find yourself backed into a corner. I love that there is a lot of player interaction in this game, there’s never any down time because you’re doing something on every player’s turn. I feel this is one of it’s strongest points since I have a very short attentio… CHICKEN!!!
...Well, that was tasty! Oh, and that’s the end of the list too! I hope you enjoyed it. Did any of your favourites make the list? If not, please share your picks for the best abstract games in the comments below. Until next time, thank you for keeping me company today!