The 40 Most Popular Board Games, According to Ranker – Part Six
Number 15 – Chinese Checkers
1840 Positive Votes
1995 Negative Votes
Chinese Checkers is neither Chinese, nor is it checkers. I know that’s not a clever line. There are four pages of links on Google with that exact sentiment. That doesn’t make it untrue, though.
Instead, this not-Chinese game of not-Checkers traces its roots back to the German game of Halma. Finding a copy of Halma is easy. Simply buy four Checker boards and squeeze them together.
In Halma, each player starts with their pieces in one of four corners of a sixteen by sixteen grid. On their turn, they may either move one piece in any direction, or jump over a piece in any direction. Once again, this isn’t Checkers. Jumps don’t remove pieces from the board. They do, however, allow a piece to move twice as far. And if at the end of a jump another jump is open you can take that jump too, again, and again, potentially rocketing a piece across the board in a single move. The first player to get all their pieces in their opponent’s home wins.
Chinese Checkers follows the same rules. It isn’t so much a different game as it is a map upgrade with new terrain features.
On a Chinese Checkers board, pieces move in one of six directions instead of one of eight. In other words, Chinese checkers employs hex-based movement, much to the delight of many classic Avalon Hill wargamers. The upgraded map also allows for serious multiplayer action. While I can’t say I ever played a six-player game of Chinese Checkers, I presume there would be many moments for negotiation and political intrigue, as each faction forges alliances to preserve jumping highways for their allies and band together to form walls that block their mutual enemies.
Oh. And before we move on, I feel like should talk about Checkers. Why not wait until Checkers appears on this list first? Because it won’t. Instead, Checkers is ranked 128th most popular board game according to ranker, beneath Strat-o-matic Baseball, Monopoly Hotels, and Star Fleet Captains. I’m sure some of the reason for the low score is because the game was mysteriously left out of the original line-up, and added after the fact. I’m also sure some of the reason is because the game has two names: it’s listed as ‘Draughts’, a name I’m guessing many Americans wouldn’t recognize. But even with those two restrictions, a well-loved game would rocket up the list and be recognized. Draughts, however, features 51 positive votes, and 127 negative votes. I don’t know what to do with that information—except to acknowledge that all those companies making Chess/Checker boards should stop wasting plastic producing all those checkers.
Number 14 – Carcassonne
2292 Positive Votes
954 Negative Votes
Ranked Low on Re-Ranks
Welcome to Carcassonne! Located at the base of the Iberian peninsula’s neck, the cité de Carcassonne is a fortified French town whose strategic location was important to Romans, Visigoths, Saracens, French, and English alike. The walls were restored in 1853 and still stand, creating the sort of magic kingdom the people at Disney tear their hair out to recreate.
In the game of Carcassonne, players lay a random tile on their turn, and maybe place one of their meeples. Whenever a castle, or road, or abbey is completed, they pick their piece off the map and score points. There’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it. By game’s end, the result should be a jumble of interlocking tiles that might represent what would happen if Frank Gehry and M.C. Escher got drunk one night and designed a French countryside together.
It’s a great game. One in which a surprising number of decisions must be made with an incomplete understanding of the course the game will take. Good players will develop strategies. Better players will predict outcomes. But even ignoring the process of determining a winner, Carcassonne makes for an entrancing activity. It’s one of those games in which you can forget to score points on multiple rounds because the act of matching tiles in an ever-expanding puzzle is somehow more pleasing than the idea of winning a friendly game of competition.
There are precious few games where a new player can bumble through their first game, as a three-year-old child participates by matching tiles on their turn, while two seasoned veterans are enthralled in a clash of intellects, and everyone enjoys themselves. If you’re ever at a party and find yourself talking to someone who is complaining about their current game group and asking advice on what they should play next, your first response should be, “Have you played Carcassonne?” I never met a group of one to six players—experienced or amateurs, young or old, casual or serious—that wasn’t enriched when they encountered this gem.
Number 13 – Pandemic
2381 Positive Votes
892 Negative Votes
Ranked Low on Re-Ranks
Full disclosure. This article series is taking time to write. Part one was written in late October. Now it’s early March. In my According to Gatherer series I never updated the rankings while working on the two parts of an article (in that way lies madness) With this series, though, I felt a four month gap required an update to the total votes and overall ranking.
I mention this because Pandemic is two spots up from its initial rank of number fifteen back in October. Considering that Chinese Checkers currently has 1,840 positive votes, and Pandemic currently has 2,381 positive votes, that’s one heck of a leap. I’m sure much of this is because of the popularity of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. But the accidental votes for the campaign mode Legacy brings would be meaningless if it wasn’t built on top of one of the best games your money can buy.
One of my first articles was a breakdown for the rules of Pandemic as explained by the cast of Star Trek, but here’s a quick primer for those uninterested in clicking links for extra credit. In the dystopian near future of Pandemic, four virulent diseases threaten to overwhelm the Earth. The players take on various roles, from medics, to scientists, to dispatchers, all working together to cure and eradicate these diseases before a tipping point is achieved, and a new Dark Age descends on mankind.
There have been many cooperative games in the past. I mentioned a number of them when we were talking about another Matt Leacock special, the 39th most popular board game according to Ranker, Forbidden Island. But it used to be that only serious gamers knew about Scotland Yard, and Arkham Horror. Family game nights, meanwhile, were emotion filled grudge-fests featuring the oldest child stealing everyone else’s money, conquering the world or, um, collecting the most boggles? In many households, ‘game night’ was a dirty word. And it would have remained that way if Leacock didn’t successfully bridge the cooperative and family game genres together.
Number 12 – Apples to Apples
2472 Positive Votes
2029 Negative Votes
Often listed and High on Re-Ranks
I need to point out an obvious foul. This isn’t a board game; it’s a card game. I know the difference between the two is captious, but I find it odd that the makers of this list on Ranker decided that Magic: the Gathering, Pokémon, Uno, Contact Bridge, and Poker weren’t allowed, but Apples to Apples was cool. I presume this has something to do with Apples to Apples being a party game. If it really bothers you, assume Apples to Apples isn’t on this list, everything before it is ranked one higher, and Balderdash, which I gave an honorary mention to in Part Two, is number 40. For the rest of us, let’s move on.
In principal, the rules for Apples to Apples don’t make sense. Each turn, the duty of judge rotates to a player who flips over a Green Apple card featuring an adjective. The other players choose a noun-based Red Apple card in their hand and place it face down. The judge shuffles the cards, looks at them, and chooses the Red Apple card that is most Green Apple. That card’s owner gets a point and a new judge is chosen.
Without context, this game sounds terrible. The judge looks at the given information and makes a decision based on the circumstances at hand. How is this a game? That’s how you choose your cell phone provider.
Well, you tell me. If you flip over a Green Apple card which reads ‘loud’, and the other players pass you ‘Monkey’, ‘Automobile’, ‘Drew Carey’, and ‘Paris, France’, what do you choose? Keeping in mind that while you’re trying to decide, players are bound to fire off arguments for their card, while sniping their opponent’s cards. “Of course Paris isn’t the loudest on this list! It’s full of accordion music and waiters offering you more wine! A car, however, has a horn…” “And do you know what has a lot of cars in it? Paris, France!”
It’s a good game. Admittedly, it wears thin. A2A relies on accidental comedy. When the comedy becomes formulaic, the joke dies. Up until that point, though? Comedy gold. If for some embarrassing reason you never played this game, don’t buy it. Ask among your friends to see who owns a copy (someone inevitably does.) Then refuse to play the game with them. No, really. Anyone who owns a copy played it enough times so it isn’t fun for them anymore. Borrow the game, find the four other people in your Tri-State area who has yet to play, pour yourself a tall glass of sangria and commence yelling at each other as to who is more intense, Oprah Winfrey or a Giant Squid. Oh, and play a game of Apples to Apples, too. I’m sure it will be your favorite game until it suddenly is not.
Number 11 – Dominion
2522 Positive Votes
1168 Negative Votes
Ranked Low on Re-Ranks
[Another card game. Roll with it, people.]
I might as well name this article, “The Four Games with the Most Influence in Modern Board Game Design (and Chinese Checkers)”. I could teach a master course in game design with these five games as the only course material necessary. I could become a hiring manager for a major research and development company armed simply with the question “How many of these five games have you played?” Three or greater, hire. Two or less, dump. If they played all five, I give them my job (I’m presuming my boss knows about my hiring process and wants to replace me as soon as possible.)
Dominion is the first Deck Building Game (shut up, Race for the Galaxy. Nobody’s talking to you.) Players begin the game with a ten card deck, and draw five cards a turn. That sounds like a lot to process, but seven of the cards in your deck give you a copper for the turn, and the other three are effectively dead weight. On your turn, you reveal the copper in your hand, buy one of the cards in the middle of the table, put it in your discard pile, then pass the turn. If you ever go to draw a card and can’t because your draw pile is empty, shuffle your discard pile and make a new pile. An average game might last thirty turns, and in many games players buy one card per turn, so a player might end up with a forty card deck by game’s end. Hence the term, ‘Deck Building Game’.
The explosion of games that spawned from this idea—that players can craft their deck while they play—helped define gaming in this century. Since Jeff, Joe and I played most of these games (that weren’t printed by a very small press), we dedicated Nerd Fountain episode #2 to a discussion/review of every deck building game ever published. Donnie X. first released Dominion in 2008. When we released the show in early 2015, we covered something to the order of thirty plus games. It was an exhausting list, but it was far from exhaustive, and there’s been a pile of new games that came out in the intervening year since the episode went live (Legendary Encounters: Predator, Star Realms, Xenoshyft: Onslaught, Valiant Universe, Commissioned, and a Deck Builder about building a deck called Deck Building to name six.) I used to claim with pride that I played every DBG, but I’ve found it necessary to forfeit that distinction. Keeping abreast of the industry would now be a full time job.
Given this explosion in titles, it’s reasonable to imagine another game supplanting Dominion, the clunky grandfather of a new genre, as deck builder supreme. But none are in the running (The next closest game in Ranker’s list is Dominion’s first expansion and stand alone game, Dominion: Intrigue at number 66. The first true contender is the deck building/wargame hybrid, A Few Acres of Snow at number 93.) That’s odd, considering many people complain about Dominion’s lack of theme; that the game mechanics make for a good engine, but an engine that could be put to better use in a more flavorful game about fighting monsters in a dungeon, or building public transit infrastructures, or ushering galactic super-civilizations to greatness. Despite games like Thundersone, Trains, and Emminent Domain, Dominion continues to rein in the minds of players. Probably because all of these twists on Dominion (while fun) are superfluous, since Dominion itself is a twist on the way we approach card games. Considering Donnie X. and Rio Grande Games’ ever increasing line of expansions, it’s unlikely there will be a need to replace Dominion any time soon.
Continue on to The Top 40 Games, According to Ranker Part Seven.