Every year thousands of new board and card games are released, and just like most of us that have fallen deep into this wonderful hobby of ours, chasing down and playing the latest and greatest new games is a constant temptation. Tragically, this leaves many of our favorite games from yesteryear sitting on our shelves collecting dust and yearning to get back to the table for another play.
This list comprises of my 5 favorite games that even though they are considered “old” in the ever-growing board game landscape, still call-out to me loud enough to find their way back to the table while also holding a place in my personal top 50 board games of all time list. Another interesting note about the games on this list is that 3 out of the 5 are currently in the top 100 on Board Game Geek, 1 is in the top 200, and 1 is within the top 500. This tells me that these games still resonate with a large number of gamers out there despite their age.
So, without further ado, on with the list!
#5 – Camel Up
Year Released: 2014
Current BGG Rank #411/#475
Winner of the 2014 Spiel des Jahres, and with good reason, Camel Up is just so much fun to play. Every time this game has hit the table with new players, even the skeptical ones, it never fails to have them smiling from ear to ear by the time the game is over, and then asking to play it again right away as most games are a breezy 30 minutes or less.
In Camel Up players will be betting on various stages of a camel race. The game is broken up into legs of the race with each leg ending once each camel has moved. This movement is triggered by players revealing colored die from the central pyramid that match a particular-colored camel in the race, and then continuing in this way until at least one camel has crossed the finish line. The players’ goal is to try to figure out which camel will be in first place at the end of each leg of the race, ultimately trying to correctly guess which camel will win the race, but also which camel will come in last place. Sounds simple, right? Well, yes it kind of is, but let me tell you that these camels surely have a mind of their own as they will be jumping on top of one another and carrying other camels on their backs with them all in an effort to cross the finish line. If a stack of camels crosses the finish line first, then the camel on top of the stack is the winner. Add on top of that the players laying down modifier spaces onto the race track that will affect the camel’s movement by either giving them extra spaces to move forward or causing them to move backwards, and it’s any man’s…ahem, I mean camel’s race!
Players turns are very simple, choosing either to make a camel move by revealing a die, placing a bet, or laying a movement modifier onto the racetrack in hopes to give their favored camel that slight edge. The easy to explain rules and turn structure on top of the wacky racing theme, makes this game easy to put in front of almost anyone and guarantee that they will have a good time, but on the other hand offers just the right amount of light strategy to satisfy even the seasoned gamer as well.
With a flashy new reprint in 2018 that added updated graphics and components in addition to a few new mechanics (watch out for the crazy camel!), Camel Up is an absolute winner!
#4 Raiders of the North Sea
Year Released: 2015
BGG Rank: 90
Raiders of the North Sea is the game that solidified Garphill Games and designer Shem Phillips as a publisher/designer to watch out for with every new release. Releasing as the middle game in a three-game theme-related arch, Raiders of the North Sea puts the player in charge of Viking warriors who gather up a crew of hardened Vikings to raid, pillage, and plunder settlements to the North!
Designer Shem Phillips’s games have become known for how they are able to take the standard worker-placement style mechanic, and add just enough of a tweak to the formula to make something that feels new and interesting. In Raiders, this comes by way of placing a Viking worker on an action spot on the board, carrying out the given action, and then in many cases picking up a Viking worker from a different action spot on the board and carrying out that action as well. This creates some very interesting decisions as the worker pawns come in different colors and each action spot on the board may require a specific color of worker to activate. While putting your higher-powered workers out on the board allows you to take the action you want, this inevitably leads to your worker now being available for another player to pick up! With these actions, players will be collecting gold, plunder, and other resources, as well as cards that form each of their respective crews needed to go on raids that will ultimately net the big point scores, but you have to keep a constant eye on your opponents as they just may be working up to the same spot you are, beating you to the punch and taking the plunder (and points) for themselves! In addition, the flow of the game is usually fairly quick as the place a worker/pick up a worker mechanic is just silky smooth in its’ implementation delivering a game that is fast-paced, strategic, and fulfilling by the end.
Raiders of the North Sea has been such a hit since its’ initial release that it was given two expansions adding even more Viking goodness to the mix, and then just this last year a full on re-skin called Raiders of Scythia that included all of the additions from the expansions as well as some other tweaks allowing gamers who missed it the first go-around the complete package all in one shot.
If you enjoy worker placement games, and have not given this one a shot, do yourself a favor and give this one a go!
Year Released: 2014
BGG Rank: 24
Orleans is such an unassuming looking game. One glance at the cover or back of the box, and you will think, oh this is just another one of those dry euro games with tracks upon tracks that I’m pushing my cube up. While that assessment is not entirely untrue, what Orleans adds to the mix makes it such an enjoyable and unique experience that it is a game that my family and various game groups keep coming back to again and again.
The hook of Orleans is its’ innovative “bag-building” mechanic. Think deck-building, but rather than a deck of cards that you are slowly building up over the game, you are instead adding workers such as farmers, merchants, knights, and monks to a bag that you will then be drawing blindly out of at the beginning of each round. Once these workers are drawn players will then simultaneously assign these workers to various action spaces on their own personal player boards that require different combinations of worker types, and then take turns carrying out these actions one at a time until all players have passed. These actions will allow you to do a plethora of different things, such as adding a new building with new actions spaces to your player area, moving your player piece along roads or waterways on a communal map collecting resources and establishing trading posts along the way, or moving up on one of the tracks allowing you to gain the benefit of that track and adding a new worker to your worker pool. The bag-building mechanic just works so well by making the turn-to-turn decision of having to determine what combination of workers you have drawn to use where, in addition to the tension it adds since you never know if you will draw that one specific worker type out of your bag that you really need to carry out a particular action. Also, much like in deck-building games Orleans allows for you to take an action to cull your bag of workers to get rid of worker types that you have too many of or are not using in your overall strategy. These culled workers are sent to another shared board that players are competing over to get additional benefits. So even when taking this culling action you are getting something in return, and not just wasting a turn.
The base game of Orleans in itself is such a wonderful game that I have played and enjoyed many times, but the game continued to receive support after its’ release with some truly fantastic expansions that added to the game without adding complication. The most notable of these expansions being a fully cooperative version of the game that is very challenging, but still keeps all of the fun of standard Orleans intact.
Orleans is a really, really good game, and that is why it has held on to its’ very high ranking on BGG even after 5+ years on the market. Orleans is a game I highly recommend, and will play any time it’s brought to the table.
Year Released: 2009
BGG Rank: #180
Set in the theme of Greek mythology, in Cyclades players will be bidding for the favor of a particular god at the beginning of each round to determine what action they will be able to take on their turn. Gaining Ares favor will allow a player to move their ground troops and build fortresses, Poseidon allows for movement of sea forces and building of seas ports, Zeus gives the player priests and temples, Athena provides worshipers, philosophers, and universities, and lastly Apollo increases the player’s income.
It is this bidding phase that ultimately sets Cyclades apart from any other game I have played as madness and hilarity inevitably ensue. All money each player currently owns is secret, Good players will try to keep track of how much money they think their opponents have, and use that knowledge to ultimately outbid them to win the favor of the god they want, or to make their opponent spend more money than they’d really like to so that they can exploit them on later turns. The way this works is that let’s say you bid six coins on Ares, but then another player comes and bids 7 this bumps you off of the Ares bid track and you then have to immediately make a bid on a different god’s track. The only way you can get back to bidding on the Ares track is if another player outbids you on your newly choses bid track. This results in a raucous bidding and bumping cycle that goes around and around the table, each player pushing one another to see just how far they are all willing to go to get the action they desperately want until everyone has decided that enough is enough, paying out their final bid, and then carrying out the winning bids of each god in turn.
Really, that one phase of the game is truly the game, but then you get to see those actions you have placed the winning bid on carried out on the board itself by allowing you to shuffle troops, carry out battles, and gain key areas of land that will help you to achieve your overall goal of building and controlling two metropolises. Add on top of that the ability to summon monsters that will usually come on to the board for one turn under a player’s control, causes havoc and then leaves, and you have a game that is just truly entertaining from start to finish.
Many will say that this game was made even better with the release of the Titans expansion, which allows for less restrictive movement in addition to players being in each other’s faces sooner and more often. I can’t really argue if that’s what you’re looking for, but there is just something about the base game of Cyclades that forces you to decide when and where to win the bid of the god that will allow you to pull off that calculated attack at just the right moment that makes me still prefer it slightly over its’ successor. Either way, you can’t really go wrong with whichever flavor of Cyclades you prefer.
Year Release: 2011
BGG Rank: 51
Ah, Eclipse. How I love thee. This is a game I discovered fairly early on in my descent into the board gaming hobby, and yet it still holds its’ place at the top of not only this list, but as my favorite game of all time. Eclipse also quickly captured the love of my game group, and is the game that we finish off each and every year with a play of.
As I mentioned in my #2 selection with Cyclades, games that involve moving troops around on a map, rolling some dice, and then seeing what you have left after the dust settles is one of if not my favorite styles of games to play, and Eclipse is no exception. Yet, Eclipse adds on so many more layers to that basic concept that you will rarely have a turn where you are not doing something exciting and fun. Eclipse is known as a 4X game (eXplore, eXand, eXploit, and eXterminate), and it does all of those things really well. You may decide to explore and uncover a new sector of the galaxy that could reveal any number of things such as new planets that are ripe with resources vital to your faction’s economy. discoveries that could give you a leg up on your opponents, or even ancient alien civilizations that you will have to overcome and defeat if you want to gain control and the benefits of their sector of the galaxy ultimately expanding your galactic empire. You may decide to research new and developing technologies that usually come in the flavor of adding new parts to your galactic space fleet thus allowing you to have totally unique ships to that of your opponents, and exploiting their ship’s weaknesses. Or perhaps you feel you’ve built up long enough and are ready to move into your foe’s territory to exterminate them and take what’s rightfully yours! However, whichever path you choose, you better be sure that you are keeping a close eye on how quickly your empire is expanding, because hidden behind the veneer of this epic battle space game is a euro-style resource management system that forces you to decide when to keep pushing forward, or when to call it quits and hold out for the next round. This is a fine balance, and a crucial decision, because quitting too soon may result in the other players swooping in and taking a piece of space you really need, but pushing too far will result in you being spread too thin and not being able to move forward or react in the following round like you may need to.
You will often here Eclipse compared to another epic space game known as Twilight Imperium, and while they do share many similarities, they also feel like very different games to me. Eclipse is more about managing that resource balance to expand your empire, while Twilight Imperium focuses more on a political intrigue mechanic that has players voting and implementing various new rules throughout the game. Twilight Imperium often gets mis-labeled as a 4X game, when in truth it really only owns 3 out of the 4 of the Xs needed to be qualified as a true 4X game since exploration is not really present which is one of my favorite elements of Eclipse. Add to that the fact that a game of Twilight Imperium will usually last 7-8 hours while Eclipse can be done in about 3-4 and I just really prefer what Eclipse brings to the table over Twilight.
Eclipse truly owns the right to be known as an epic game, and it’s in that thrill of discovering what’s underneath that hidden area of space, building out your ships to be completely and uniquely different from that of your opponents, or finding that balance of how to best use your unique faction’s powers against your enemies that makes Eclipse a game that I want to come back to again and again, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
…And That’s a Wrap!
So there you have it folks, my top 5 games that are at least five years or older. I’m always excited when one of these games hits the table, which is why all of these games are also still ranked within my top 25 games of all time. What games that are considered “older” do you still love despite their age? Let us know in the comments!