Jorge Zhang

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I play and review a lot of board games. With the right group, I'll pretty much play any game, but over the years I have developed some strong general preferences. In my mind, the most important thing in any game is interesting decisions. Decisions come down to trade-offs: tensions that are difficult to manage. In my experience, it is player-to-player tensions that are the most interesting, dynamic, and fun (I would like to do action A, but that would help player B too much, and damage my relations with player C). I especially love games that reward cooperation, but incentivize defection somehow so that there is a tension to the relationship. That all said, I do believe that there are games for different occasions, groups, and whims. For that reason, I have put together several lists of some of my favorite games depending on these factors. They are ordered by my favorite to least favorite, but these rankings are quite flexible, and I will continue to update these lists as I play more games.

Grand Strategy Games

I love games that require long-term planning, but also flexibility in the details. It is impossible to get "Grand Strategy" in a short 1-hour or less game, because there is not enough time to make and develop those long-term strategic visions. All of these games are marathons, and true brain-burners. This is the kind of game you'll devote the entire afternoon towards, because the experience is worth it. My definition of Grand Strategy is very flexible, and encompasses any long-lasting game, typically with direct player conflict.
  1. Diplomacy
  2. Twilight Struggle
  3. Twilight Imperium: Third Edition
  4. Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization
  5. Eclipse

Euro/Economic Games

Economic games are another favorite of mine, and I like playing them when I want to have a puzzle-like experience. Here, the core decisions tend to be balancing risk/reward of certain investments early on, and deciding between gaining more resources and scoring victory points in the mid-late game. The nature of Euro games means that there is less player interaction, but I still like it when it is present in the game in indirect ways. This generally is done through scarcity: when there are a limited number of things, and it is possible to deprive an opponent of a key resource/card/item.
  1. Caverna: The Cave Farmers
  2. Teotihuacan: City of Gods
  3. Clans of Caledonia
  4. Manhattan Project: Energy Empire
  5. Puerto Rico
  6. Terraforming Mars

Bidding/Auction Games

I really enjoy bidding and auction games. In my experience, auction games are the most fun among a very competitive group of players, especially ones that are good at bluffing.
  1. Vault Wars
  2. For Sale

Strategic and Chaotic Games

I think luck gets ragged on a lot among board gamers. Luck is not always bad! In fact, it can prevent dry, tactical games where the player who loses is the player who first makes a mistake (For example, Chess). I like games where the skill comes from managing luck well, and having a flexible strategy that can adapt to the situation. I define these as Strategic and Chaotic games, since the winner is not random, but the situation is constantly in flux. A lot of games have some degree of chaos/luck, so to qualify for this category, a game has to be very chaotic but also have significant elements of strategy. You'll know it when you see it.
  1. Cosmic Encounter
  2. Innovation
  3. Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

Group Games

Sometimes, you need games that can entertain a large number of people for short bursts. I find that simplicity, accessibility (to those who have not played many board games before), and short playtimes make good group games.
  1. 6 Nimmt!
  2. We Didn't Playtest This At All
  3. Avalon
  4. Secret Hitler
  5. Coup
  6. Danger! The Game

Games I designed

These games are in a class of their own.
  1. Daggers High
  2. Lord of Colors
  3. Glorious Ascendency
  4. Naked CEOs

© 2020 Jorge Zhang