Game Recommendations From a Gaming Fanatic

Investing is a game. In order to beat the market, you have to roll some dice, move some pawns, and draw some cards…. Oh, who are we kidding? Let’s just put investing aside for a moment and delve into this year’s holiday playlist of David’s favorite board games!

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David Gardner: Few people may love games more than I do. Some people don’t even like games at all. If that’s you, well, I suggest you skip this week’s podcast. Come back later this month when we’ll be playing a different kind of game that you may like as it involves the stock market. That’s, of course, The Market Cap Game Show. That’s a game we all can play, OK? Okay. If you don’t like games, take this week off. Hey, wait. You’re still listening? Excellent. In that case, thank you for suffering a Fool gladly, as I endeavor this week to share too short lists of recent favorites from the worlds of board games and card games, all shared intentionally as early as possible this December. You’ll have time to put one of these under someone else’s tree or just spice up your own life with something, get this, that is not on Zoom. It’s my annual Games, Games, Games podcast only on this week’s Rule Breaker Investing.

Welcome back to this week’s Rule Breaker Investing, arguably a misnomer for this particular podcast. There’s not a lot of investing going on in this week’s podcast. But anybody who’s listened to me for more than a month probably has figured out by now that on this podcast, I’d like to spend about 1/3 of our time on investing, 1/3 of our time on business, and 1/3 of our time on life. If you think about the Motley Fool’s purpose statement, to make the world smarter, happier, and richer. I think you can map those to those three zones that I just talked about. For me, we spend 1/3 of our time on investing, which should make us richer, on business, which should make us smarter, and on life, which will make us happier. If you’re like me, games especially shared with others, spark joy in you. I first started doing this in 2017. Back then it was the gift-giving special. I had a bunch of fellow Fools on to talk about, how they give gifts around this holiday period, and some creative thoughts. I just right in the end there stuck in a games list and that gift-giving special of 2017.

That’s how it started. Then a year later, it was Richard Garfield, the game designer of Magic: The Gathering, one of the great all-time games. A wonderful interview. I talked to Richard in December. At the end of that one, I just put in a list for recommendations for holiday games. Then 2019 for the first time I explicitly came out of the closet on this, and called it Games, Games, Games. That was the title of that podcast, which is why this week’s is called Games, Games, Games Volume 3. It’s my annual holiday guide to some of my favorite recent games, board games, and card games. Now, before we get started with the first of my two, five-game lists. First, lighter family games and then second, harder-core strategy games. I want to share with you. Two of my favorite tools from the board game world. The first is boardgamegeek.com. If you love The Motley Fool and we say, investing to you and you come to fool.com thinking about investing.

Well, the site that I do the same thing for when it comes to board games, the magnet site for me as a board gamer is clearly boardgamegeek.com. A lot of you who are gamers already know that. But many others are hearing for the first time, “Wait, there’s a site dedicated to board games on the internet?” Well, darn right, there is. It’s been going for 20-plus years. I even talked to the founders in those early days because they reached out, about branding their business and their website. They reached out to us at the Fool. They said, “Hey, you guys call yourselves Fools. Has that worked out for you?” They were saying in the late 1990s because they told me, “We are thinking of going with the site, calling it Geek, like BoardGameGeek. What do you think of that?” Of course, as Fools we said, we think that’s great. I’m not saying they needed our advice, but it did end up BoardGameGeek, which I’m very happy to note. More important though, is the value of that site. Every game ever made, whether it’s a game you were taught us a child, and can’t remember the name of it.

Or a game that’s existed for thousands of years, like the game Go, or a game that you played last week. Every single one of them has a page on BoardGameGeek where people are posting up pictures of the game, they’re answering rules questions. They are putting in tutorial videos, all kinds of content user-generated around games. It’s such a helpful tool. In fact, I’m going to be including from BoardGameGeek for each of the games in this year’s Games, Games, Games, a couple of numbers to add value to deciding if this is the right game for you. In fact, I’d say a couple of numbers. But I’m going to be presenting three facts about each of the games we’re covering this week. Now, the first is the rating of the game on BoardGameGeek. You know how the Internet Movie Database puts a rating on every movie, and Amazon puts a rating on every product?

Well, that’s exactly what you’d expect from BoardGameGeek where every game is rated. In my experience, if a game is at 7.0 or higher, it’s probably a pretty good game. If it’s below seven, you better really like the genre or know the designer. There’s so many better games than those. I’ll also mention because all of these sites have their own kinds of parameters and communities. It’s very rare for any game to be rated over, let’s say, 8.5. You have thousands of people rating. You’d have to have everybody agreeing it’s a 10 to be anywhere near a nine. But it turns out there are many mixed tastes. I’m not sure I can remember seeing a game that’s much higher than 8.6. That’s the sweet spot we’re talking about this week, 7.0- 8.6. Of course, all the games that I’ll be sharing with you this week fall on that sweet zone. They’re good games. Otherwise, why am I talking about them? The second number though I’m going to share with you is the weight rating.

Now, this bears a quick explanation. It’s so helpful, especially figuring out what is a good game for you, or a person that you’re thinking about giving a game to, as a gift. The weight of the game is rated from 1-5. It’s basically how much effort does it take to teach and/or to play this game? How weighty is it? Closer to 5 means 37 page rulebooks, two-hour rules explanations, and a whole bunch of overhead to even get that game to the table. Whereas the opposite, if it’s down near 1, it’s Candy Land. By the way, one of the worst games ever made teaches kids that decisions don’t matter because all you’re doing is flipping cards and following what the card says. Well, I’m having a little fun. I think I may have included Candy Land on a past Pet Peeves podcast. But if I didn’t, maybe it will be on a future one. But anyway, yes, Candy Land is around a 1.0 weight. The hardest, most intense game you could ever think of, probably is going to be over 4. For each of the games, I’ll be giving the weight to give you a sense of how easy it is to teach to others. Often how long it might take to play or not.

A lot of that is wrapped into the weight. Now, the final factor I’ll be giving you from BoardGameGeek for each of these games is the appropriate number of players for the game. Now, if you’re a longtime player, you’re going to recognize sometimes you buy Gamebox. On the box it says, players, 2-6. But while it may say players, 2-6, sometimes it’s only a really good game if it’s 4, 5 or 6, maybe it’s not a very good two-player game, or sometimes it might be a great 2 or 3 player game, but boy, if you start adding 4, 5 and 6 players, takes way too long. Gamers are smart and on BoardGameGeek, they vote what they think the best player totals are, so I’ll be giving that for each of these games. Now, beyond what I’m sharing with you this week, I’ve just shared with you a great tool. If you didn’t already know about it, feel free to go to boardgamegeek.com. This is a completely unpaid advertisement from a gaming fanatic, but now you are empowered to know there is a page for the game you’re looking for. It might be a game you’ve just seen on Amazon, but you’re wondering, is that actually a good game or not? You can go check the rating for the game.

You can look for the weight of the game, which is listed on the top half of the page for every game, and also see the number of players that it’s most suitable for. All three of those really helpful bits of information, I’ll be sharing them with you throughout this podcast. The second and final tool I want to mention is another endorsement for somebody I don’t know, in this case, who I just think has created something amazing and it’s called the BG Stats app. Now, you ready to get really geeky with me here? Because I take the time when I play any game to log that I played that game. Some people do this with their diet. They’re like, I ate this today, I’m going to list that and they keep a spreadsheet of what they’re eating to make sure they’re eating healthily or to keep to a diet. While gamers, especially hardcore ones like me, also log our games. I’ll say I played this game with my friend Rick. Rick and I played this game at his house, so you type in the location.

On this date, it took this long. You could track the time that the game took. That could be helpful for the future, by the way, and of course, what the final score was, and so I log my games. Now, if this sounds crazy to you, please don’t do it, but if it sounds interesting and you’re wondering what’s an amazing app that just keeps getting better to help you keep track of all the games that you’ve played, BG Stats. It’s on the App Store, shouldn’t have much trouble finding it. In fact, the author says, Board Games Stats was created because he says, my wife and I were missing a quick and easy to use tool to track our board game plays. Over time it developed to include statistics and more and more details, features and polish, thinking we could not be the only ones looking for this solution. That app, by the way was published to the App Store in July of 2014 from apps by Eerko. In fact, I see that Eerko is Dutch, and he and his wife Suzanne, their last name is Vissering.

You can even follow them on Twitter @BGStats if you like. But he does a spectacular job with this app. The games I’m sharing with you, most of them this week are among my most played games in 2021, and I can do crazy things thanks to this app. Like tell you that I played 319 games so far this year. That’s disappointing in light of my 381 games played last year, hello COVID, and only 195 games the year before, in a so-called normal year, the year before 2019. If you’re calculating that I’m playing roughly one game a day on average, all that is true. Of course, sometimes nothing for a week and then eight over a weekend, but I actually know how many games I’ve played. I’ve played with 37 different players here in 2021, 80 unique games in 14 locations. The list goes on. All I’m doing is logging, but the number crunching here is fantastic. You’ve heard about BoardGameGeek and the Board Games Stats app, BG Stats on the App Store. I say, let’s get started. Our first list this week is the casual games. I have five of them and I always do them alphabetically. Let’s start with the letter C. The game came out this year, 2021, the game is Cascadia.

Now, Cascadia is an area of the Pacific Northwest. It starts somewhere around Oregon, but it goes way up into Western Canada. It’s a beautiful area and this is a beautiful game. This game celebrates nature because you’re building habitats. You’re building a habitat in front of you tiles. If you’ve ever played a tile-laying game like Carcassonne, you know what I’m talking about. Tiles with different habitats that you’re trying to interlock together, but you’re also putting on top of them animals like the Chinook salmon or the Roosevelt elk. I actually know the names of these animals from the game, not for my own zoology classes, and so yes, Cascadia has you bringing together the animals with the habitats. Ultimately, of course, this is a game to score victory points. Now, I want to mention right upfront, Cascadia is an 8.1, highly esteem by gamers. This though is a lighter game. The weight of Cascadia is 2.01. Anything that’s around two or even less than two is a light game.

This game will take you about 15 minutes to read the rules to probably about that much more to teach others, but after you got it down, it’s a snap. The player count, while this game plays 1-4 players, that’s right, you can play it solo. It’s a puzzle solving activity solo. It’s considered best with two or three. Now I want to mention that what you’re doing in this game is your drafting from four sets, your drafting a single habitat paired with a random animal, and you grab both of those and you build them out into your personal habitat, and you do that 20 times, and that’s the whole game. Now I’m not going to explain the rules. There’s always a temptation on Games, Games, Games to start talking about the rules of games, but I’m definitely not going to do that here. I just want you to know it’s a tile-laying game with some thoughtful placement of animals. There are different combos and ways to score points. It’s not for a five-year old, but it’s certainly for a 10-year old, and adults enjoy it too. I sure have a number of times here in 2021. One of the funny side note about Cascadia, it’s one of those games where the final scores are going to be very close.

They’ll be something like this, 95 to 91 to 89. It’s hard to blow anybody out in Cascadia, that will dissuade some of you that will encourage others. Favorite games of 2021 for our Games, Games, Games Volume 3 episode, I’m leading off with Cascadia. Now, let me hasten to mention, every single game I’m mentioning this week, seems very available to me, specifically on Amazon.com. In the past if you mentioned a game and people are like, it’s hard to find. Now, let me mention there are many places that sells games. For years I’ve used things like funagain.com, coolstuffinc.com, miniaturemarket.com. Those are all branded stores doing their best to compete with the big dog who these days, of course is Amazon. Amazon, since it feels like an easy click, I wanted to make sure all of my recommendations are Amazon ready, Amazon happy this week. It’s my expectation, I can’t speak internationally, although I hope it’s the case internationally, but at least in the US, all of these games should be easily available without supply chain problems.

Order early, order often. Cascadia, like the others, Amazon happy. Well let’s keep moving to game number 2 in the casual group, sticking with the letter C, it’s The Crew: Mission Deep Sea. Now, there are probably some The Crew fans out there. After all, I featured the original, The Crew game; The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine on last year’s Games, Games, Games podcast. You might have picked that one up and learned about it, and if you didn’t, I think you’re really going to admire this sequel entitled again, The Crew: Mission Deep Sea. What’s going on with these games? Well, these are card games first and foremost, and they are trick-taking games. Anybody who’s ever played hearts or spades or bridge, you know how trick-taking work, somebody leaves a card, everybody else has to follow suit, if not, you can drop any other card and there might be a trump suit which would win that tricks, so trick-taking games. But what’s remarkable about these two games is that they’re co-operative trick-taking games, which is a crazy notion. The idea that we’re all playing together instead of somebody trying to win the trick with the ace of spades, we’re actually trying to make sure that Sally wins this trick, because she has a specific mission goal that requires her to win a trick with the blue five, and then Harry over there needs to win no tricks at all, and that’s how it goes in a co-operative trick-taking game. You each have different goals. Now last year, The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine splashed on the scene, and the goals you’re going after were specific cards like you needed to take the pink 3 and the green 5, and I needed to take the red 9, and so we all try to work together.

We’re not allowed ever to show our hands, but it’s a co-operative puzzle-solving activity as a trick-taking game. Well this year, the follow-up, The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, which has of course a deep sea theme, but it’s very similar to the first game. By the way, each of them tells a story, so they’re mission-based. You go through, in this case, 30 missions in the deep sea together, and each time you succeed, you read next a little bit of the story, so you have that element. But what really makes this game next level versus last year’s is that the goals this year are not specific cards anymore, they’re specific things, I already mentioned one earlier, for example, take no tricks at all, or only win green cards or only win cards above the rank of 5. There are more specific and varied goals, and indeed, you randomize what the goals will be ahead of time for each of the mission. The replayability of The Crew: Mission Deep Sea is outstanding. Have you figured it out on a fan of these games? You bet, it’s an 8.5 right now on BoardGameGeek, The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, maybe the highest rated game I’ll be sharing with you this week. The weight 2.1, so very analogous, very similar to Cascadia. Both of them again, very accessible, lighter family games, and that makes sense, because these are my first five.

These are the five casual recommendations I have for you this year. I want to mention as well, this game plays 2-5 players and all four of those ably, it’s probably best with four, that’s what the voters say on BoardGameGeek, but I played with 3, 4 and 5, plays just fine with any of those numbers. Casual family game number 3, we go to the letter H and the game is High Society. Now, High Society has been around for 26 years, so it’s not like this just came out in 2021, but we sure did fall in love with it all over again here in 2021 in my family, in my gaming groups. This is a simple auction game. It’s designed by Reiner Knizia. Reiner joined me on this podcast earlier this year, you can hear that full interview with Reiner Knizia one of the best living game designers. This is one of Reiner’s games where you are bidding against the trappings of High Society against your fellow players. Each of you starts with the same set of money cards, different cards with denominations. It’s fair we all start with a fair shake, and we’re going to flip up maybe a great meal or a night of the casino.

How we spend our time apparently in High Society, it’s all Art Deco themed most recently, but you’re going to bid money cards. Whoever pays the most money, of course, pays that money and gets that card which is going to be worth points. The danger is some of the cards are bad and negative, High Society ain’t all good. For those you’re bidding not to take that, you’re bidding more money to avoid that problem, like, I don’t know, a bad debt. Over the course of the game, you’re bidding both for the good things and bad things and the trick at the end is, while we all see the points, the stuff that we’ve bought, but whoever spent the most money from their hand of money cards instantly loses. The genius of High Society is you have to have spent not the most money to score the most points. It is a very accessible game, playable, this one, in 15 minutes. Cascadia and The Crew, you’re going to probably want to put in a good 45 minutes, if not more, where you’re playing those games. But for a game of High Society, we’re talking about a 15 minute affair.

High Society is rated as a 7.1 on BoardGameGeek, 10,000 ratings. This game has been played and loved a lot over 26 years. It plays 3-5 players. It plays all of those ably, it’s considered best with four or five, the more the merrier. As I mentioned, about a 15-30 minute playing time and the weight of this game is 1.5. The lightest, quickest of the games we’ve covered so far, so Cascadia, the Crew Mission: Deep Sea, High Society. Let’s move on to game Number 4. To the letter M, we go with Mandala. Now this is a spectacular abstract card game. It’s for two players only. Last year I did a whole list of just two-player games, and a casual, and a hardcore list. This year I just decided to go with casual and hardcore, but I’m explicitly calling this one out as a two-player game only. It’s a great couples game. If you have a spouse or partner or kid that you like to play with, this is highly replayable.

The weight of the game is 1.8, by the way, the rating and 7.7 on BoardGameGeek, of course. It plays two, its best with two, you would only play Mandala with two. Now, it’s hard to explain this one because it’s an abstract strategy games. What I’m going to do is lean on my friend BoardGameGeek and simply read the first paragraph of the description. I hope that that mostly conveys how this game works. It won’t, because you can’t really do it in a paragraph but here we go. In the two-player game Mandala, you were trying to score more than your opponent by collecting valuable cards. But you won’t know which cards are valuable until well into the game. Over the course of the game, players play their colored cards into the two Mandalas, building the central shared mountains and laying cards into their own fields. As soon as the Mandala has all six colors, the players take turns choosing the colors in the mountain and adding those cards to their river and their cup. I won’t explain those were not during the rules here. At the end of the game, the cards in your cup are worth points based on the position of their colors in that player’s river. The player whose cup is worth more points, wins.

Now I realize I’m using terms and not defining them. Probably sounds a little bit confusing, but you shouldn’t think this is a confusing game, not at all. The rules are about two pages, the way to the game, as I mentioned, rounding to 1.8. This is a delightful, highly replayable game where the final scores might be something like 57-35. You can have some blowouts, you can have some higher scoring games, and some lower scoring games, but each game is different. I’ve often said an admiration of this game, because what you have is a deck of something like 90 cards. They’re all in just six colors. There aren’t any numbers at all in the cards. You’d think this is too basic of design. A 90 card or so deck with just six different colors, but how you arrange them and the points that are recorded on the little gameboard it gives you are remarkable.

This is a game that could’ve been designed 3,000 years ago. Maybe it was, but I don’t think so. It says it was designed in 2019 by Trevor Benjamin and Brett Gilbert. Sometimes we have to live for a few thousand years before we realize how simply beautiful we can make a brand new game. That’s Mandala, casual game number 4. My final casual game this year, wow, I see its rating is actually only 6.9, slightly below the 7.0 cutoff that I recommended earlier but I don’t care because I think this one’s too much fun. The weight of this game is 1.24. This is by far the lightest of the games we’re talking about and it’s called Spyfall. Spyfall is a party game, very explicitly so. Of these five, this is the only party game that I’m underlying this year. Party usually means there are a lot of players playing. In this case, this game plays 3-8. I see voters, most of all favorite with the number 6, but absolutely you can play this with seven, eight players as well, the more the merrier for Spyfall.

What’s going on in Spyfall? Each of us at the start of the round is going to get a card telling us what our role is and where we are. For example, let’s just say we’re at the circus and you pick up your card and it says you’re a concession salesman at the circus. Great, you’re a concession salesman, while I picked up my card, and it also says circus because we’re all at the circus. Mine says lion tamer and my friend next to me, it’s also the circus. But one of us got the card that doesn’t say circus, it says simply spy. The name of the game is Spyfall and the goal of the game, if you’re not the spy, is to figure out who around the room is the spy. If you are the spy, your goal is to fool everybody into thinking somebody else, not you, is the spy. In approximately six minutes, we will simply ask questions. I’ll ask you a question, you will ask the next person a question, and all you’re trying to figure out is where we are, that you were a lion tamer or a concession salesmen, that’s just flavored text.

That’s some fun, that makes it easier to answer the question I meant to ask you, for example, if I asked you, does the place where we are entail risk in any way? If you’re the lion tamer you’re probably going to say, “Yeah, I take risks every day.” Now keep in mind all of us except one of us know we’re at the circus. We’re asking questions to figure out who doesn’t know where we are. If you pick up the spy card, you have no idea where we are. You’re listening very carefully and trying to be as persuasive as you can in your made-up answer and then the questions that you’ll ask others. So after six minutes, you’re either going to figure out who the spy was or the spy will have fooled everybody into thinking it was actually Jenny, not the spy, him or herself. That’s a lot of the fun of this gaming. When I think about this game, most of all I think about fun, and I think about the holidays, and I think about larger groups of people, people of different ages.

This is a game that can be played grandparents with their grand kids. Keep in mind, somebody is going to need to be a little bit of a gamer and read the roughly four or five pages of rules, but is a very light game it’s a 1.2 weight. If you find yourself liking Spyfall, there is another expansion or two out there where you could mix it up in terms of the places where we find ourselves. There are 30 possible places in each box of Spyfall, and in the rules booklet, there’s a full listing of all of them. If you’re challenged and you’re the spy, you have a last chance to say where we actually are. For example, if we all realized my producer, Rick, is the spy and he is busted, he has a last shot at saying, “Are we at the circus?” If he gets that right, he wins anyway. You’re always kind of listening, you’re always knowing what the sites can be. In some of the expansions, of course they have lots of different other sites.

Like a lot of these games, very expandable in the same way, the Crew Mission: Deep Sea follow on The Crew Planet Nine, well that’s what’s happening with Spyfall as well. Anyway, there we have it. Any one of the five games to list them again, Cascadia, The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, High Society, Mandala, and Spyfall. Any one of them can provide fun for hours and thinky fun and for people of all ages. That’s the spirit of the casual family games list. If you do happen to pick up one of these, I hope you have a wonderful time this holiday season with family and friends over a game. That’s much for casual family games, we’re about to move now to hardcore strategy games. But before we do, I want to mention the Mailbag this month.

So my producer, Rick Engdahl, and I will be recording this month’s Mailbag earlier than usual so we can both take the last week of the year off. It will be a fresh new podcasts and it will be your mailbag but we’re actually going to record it on Monday, December 20th, earlier than usual. That’s my way of saying before we move onto hardcore strategy games, that if you’d like to be part of this month’s Mailbag, drop us a note more like asap, like listening to the next couple of shows. Our email is rbi@fool.com we’ll read them all probably Friday, December 17th, and be ready to record on Monday, December 20th. Of course, the mailbag will come out on its normal schedule, this year it happens to be December 29th. I’m flagging this with the very first podcast this month. If you have questions or thoughts about games or additional games, suggestions, be happy to speak to that in the Mailbag, our email address, rbi@fool.com. Let’s move onto list number 2, and by the way, if you’re still listening, you’re probably a harder core gamer. If you don’t want to go deeper, here, we’ve had a great time this week. Please find some great games, enjoy with family and friends this holiday season. But now, we’re about to go to game avail. Now, these five games are all weightier.

They’re longer. Usually, if you buy it, you’re the person probably reading the rules to teach the friends. I wouldn’t just wrap one of these up and hand it to somebody who doesn’t want to spend a good 40 minutes with rules or so. That’s the level of games we’re talking about, the strategy games for hardcore games. Let’s start off with the letter C. Again, we’re going to go with Clank Legacy Acquisitions Incorporated. Some years ago, The Clank Franchise was loosed upon the world. Clank, and it’s hard, it’s a pretty lighter, accessible game. It’s a deck builder. Now, I’m not going to in-full explain what deck-building is. We’ve actually talked about in years passed on this podcast. But basically, deck-building games have you starting off with a little deck of cards that lets you buy more cards that are in the center of the table. As you add those to your deck and shuffle it in, you’re building a strategy, you’re deck building, you’re creating your own unique deck of cards that allows you to score points or whatever you’re trying to do in a game. Clank, is a deck builder.

The main theming of Clank is a Dungeons theme, and so in the base game of Clank, which I highly recommend and is lighter than the one I’m talking about this week, Clank Legacy. But Clank is a lighter game, where you’re dashing down to the bottom of a dungeon, trying to grab a valuable treasurer and get out before the big Dragon blows fire over everybody. It’s a race game and a deck builder. I know a lot of gamers hearing me right now, already know about Clank, but not everybody knows about Clank Legacy Acquisitions Incorporated. This game came out in 2019. This was one of our most played games earlier this year. It’s a legacy game. Legacy games, again, another beautiful innovation in the world of tabletop games. Legacy games mean that whatever you just did in that game, whatever result you just got as the game ended, that is going to change the next game that you play. The person who won might get some disadvantage for the next game, the person who finished in last might get some extra card, or new power, or ability.

You’ll play that game over and over, and there will be a story that grows with it. That’s why we call these games, legacy games. The first legacy game was actually Risk Legacy, it came out in 2011. I think, a lot of us have played Risk before. Well, it was turned into a legacy format by the brilliant designer Rob Daviau, a previous Rule Breaker Investing invitee. Did a great interview with Rob some years ago, but Risk was the first legacy game. There are many more of these days. Clank itself was turned into a legacy game. The Internet loves it. The BoardGameGeek rating for Clank Legacy is 8.7. That even tops the Crew Mission Deep Sea, which I mentioned earlier, 8.7. The weight of this game, 2.7, so closer to 3. Basically, a medium weight game. This game plays 2, 3, or 4 players, but probably best with four. You’d like to have all four people around the table playing through Clank Legacy. It’s the same Clank run through and grab treasures and get out before others, but it adds in a whole bunch of additional rules and components and story.

There’s a pretty good sense of humor, rather zany and silly, that runs through the game. But it’ll play about 12 different sessions, and the game will grow in front of you. You should probably play with the same four people, or three people, or two people, all the way through. You’re making a real commitment when you pick a legacy game. But Clank Legacy, there are few better. Hardcore game number 2, this is probably my personal game of the year candidate. I do see it was published technically in 2020. I think, most people have played it in 2021, me included, and that is Dune Imperium. Dune Imperium is an 8.3 on BoardGameGeek with 13,000 ratings. That’s a very substantial player base. The weight of the game is a 3.0, right in there at medium. This is not a very heavy game. That’s something I like about Dune Imperium. It does take a few hours. We typically come in right near two-and-a-half to three hours. For this game, it plays 1-4 players. It does play solo, but I think you want to play this with friends, and gamers recommend three or four.

Try to have as many at the table, up to four, as you can for Dune Imperium. Now, many of us, me not included, have read one or more of Frank Herbert’s Dune books. I’ve always heard lots of great things about the series. I know some of you are like, Dave, you’ve not read any of the Dune books. You have so much to look forward to. Why have you not read them yet? I can’t read every book, but I will say this, I sure did enjoy the Dune movie. I was waiting for it for the last couple of years, that came out this holiday season. It gets a great recommendation for me, much better than the Dune I first saw, I think, it was in the 1980s. Timothee Chalamet, a little bit more convincing to me as Paul Atreides. But anyway, Dune Imperium is, in a lot of ways, the board game version of, of course, the Dune saga. Each of you is going to be representing one of the houses that are competing for the spice on the planet Dune. Each of you is going to have a service, special power.

But this is also, like Clank Legacy, a deck builder. It has elements, where you’re going to be buying cards to add to your unique deck with your unique strategy for conquering Dune. Not only that, but it blends with the deck-building mechanic, a worker placement mechanic. That’s going to be true of one other game I’m going to mention on this hardcore list. I love the blending of mechanics that are already enjoyed on their own. I like worker placement games. That’s where you put pawn over there and get to grab some stuff because you put your pawn there, and now, you blocked me from putting my pawn there, so I have to put my pawn somewhere else. Worker placement games. If you think of your little pawns as workers, you’re gathering resources and doing unique things with them. That’s how worker placement games work.

There are hundreds of such games. They really started years ago with Caylus. I think, that was the first worker placement game. Agricola, one of my favorite all-time games, is a great example of work replacement, but there are hundreds and hundreds of games these days that have worker placement. I realize, if you’re still listening to me at this point in the podcast, you’re one of two people. Either you’re like, Dave, I already know worker placement games, get going. But somebody else’s thinking, wait, I love games, but I’ve never heard of worker placement; what is that? I’m trying to hit it down the middle and bringing both of you, but I want you to know Dune Imperium does a beautiful job blending deck-building with worker placement. Again, it’s Dune. Even the cards themselves bear a little bit of resembles intentionally so to the Hollywood actors and some of the sites that you saw in the Dune movie this holiday season.

It’s cartoonish art. It’s not photograph, realistic or anything, but defeat your rivals in combat, truly navigate the political factions, and acquire the precious spice to lead your house to victory. If you are a Dune fan and a gamer, I insist, do not pass. Go directly to jail. No, don’t go to jail, go by Dune Imperium. This is a wonderful strategy board game. I do see that it has its first expansion, which is probably going to add some new cards and some new houses coming out very shortly. This is a home run of a game. On a side note, the same designer who designed Clank is the designer of Dune Imperium. Obviously, I am a Paul Dennen fan. Good on you, Paul. Thanks for your great work in this art form of games. Onto your hardcore game Number 3. Well, a lot of hardcore gamers know of Gloomhaven. Gloomhaven, after all, one Kickstarter. This is a game that was kick-started, raised millions of dollars, and then went onto great acclaim.

Gloomhaven, the base game, which even though I’m not here to talk about this week, I want to mention to you, is considered at present, the greatest game of all time on BoardGameGeek. You owe it to yourself, at least, to know that, if not to play it, but some of you will already have played it. But for those who have not, I think a wonderful entry into the world of Gloomhaven, which by the way, is a legacy game that contains tactical combat, and cards, and an ongoing story, and character development. It has so many things going on that it’s complexity level is much higher than anything else we’ve talked about this week. The complexity level of Gloomhaven is at 3.9, that means you better seriously be into the stuff if you’re going to buy that game. But a recent sequel to Gloomhaven was designed to be a shorter, simpler, kinder way into the world of Gloomhaven, and that’s what I’m selecting for game number 3 on my hardcore list this year, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is rated 8.7 on BoardGameGeek. Its weight is, well, 3.6, still pretty weighty because after all, it is at its heart Gloomhaven. But this game, which plays, by the way, 1, 2, 3, or 4 players.

Yeah, you can play at solo and have a great time. It’s going to take you hours and hours, or you can play with a friend group, probably the same persistent group of friends, like Clank Legacy mention earlier. But Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion in the words, I’m reading a little bit from BoardGameGeek here is aimed at a more casual audience to get people into the gameplay more quickly. In the original of Gloomhaven, you were regularly building maps with different map tiles that you’re assembling, and they’re all listed with numbers on them, and you have to figure out number 17 connects in a number 3, there’s a lot of setup. Well, this game now, you just play out of a book. You open up a spiral ring book, and it tells you the story right there in the storybook, but it also lays the map right out in the book itself. A brilliant equalizer for the rest of us making this game simpler to play.

You play in the scenario book itself. I also want to mention that for a lot of people, the rule set of Gloomhaven is pretty complex. Indeed, I’ve always said anybody who can graduate high school can easily understand Gloomhaven, if they actually want to understand and play a great game. Not everybody does, but the beauty of this version, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, is there’s a simplified rule set initially and then a tutorial. As you play the first few scenarios, it teaches you the game right on the cards itself and the book. Again, if this sounds like your type of game, that would mean that you do want to play a pretty complex game, but you appreciate the opportunity to learn it more gradually without having the stuff 3.9 weight worth of rules into your head, and then in the heads of others as you spend about an hour-and-a-half learning a game together again, Gloomhaven, the parent game, still the big dog of all. An amazing game that takes 60 or more hours to play has lots of rules, lots of possibilities, and is a true beast. By the way, Frosthaven, the follow-up to Gloomhaven, which will have even more. There will be some world-building elements. That was an even bigger kick-starter which concluded a year or two ago and a lot of us, me included, are waiting for our kick-starter version of Frosthaven to show up one day. But if you’re new to all this, that’s why I picked Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion.

A very different game than any of the other seven I’ve mentioned already, much more complex, and so you are warned. But if his sounds attractive or interesting to you, I bet you might be amazed by the Gloomhaven franchise, Isaac Childres, the genius designer. We should have him on this podcast one day. On the hardcore game number 4, and that’s the Lost Ruins of Arnak. The Lost Ruins of Arnak on BoardGameGeek is at 8.1. It did come out in 2020, very popular here in 2021. It has some of these other games, a new expansion coming that a lot of us are excited about. But the Lost Ruins of Arnak has a weight of 2.9, and it plays 1-4 players. It does have a solo version, it’s probably best, gamers say, with three players. But again, if you have four or two, you’re going to love the Lost Ruins of Arnak. Now, this game is very analogous to Dune: Imperium in this regard.

It combines the same two key mechanics, worker placement and deck-building into a wonderful ramp across an uninhabited island in uncharted seas where you as an explorer have found traces of a great civilization, and now you’re going to lead an expedition to explore the island and find lost artifacts, face fearsome guardians, all in a quest to learn the island’s secrets. That’s another way of saying each of you is like Indiana Jones, except that you have a deck of card in your hands, and you’re trying to rack up victory points by acquiring resources in the right combinations to enable you to score lots of points by games. This is a highly replayable game. The deck of cards, which has a lot of things like ancient artifact or maybe a whip card. You feel like you’re Indiana Jones with his whip, that theming is really beautifully done like a number of these other games. This is an amazing game to see on the table. It really draws you in. It’s going to open kids’ eyes as well. It makes you feel like you’re in an Indiana Jones movie as you play this pretty darn good strategy game. You’re going to be building up your own set of equipment cards and artifact cards, so you have your own strategy going on.

But ultimately, what you have is like Dune: Imperium, about a two hours or so experience, very replayable. There’s one side of the game board that’s a little bit easier to play, welcoming new commerce, then you flip it over, and you use that snake side, not the bird side of the gameboard for all your future games, it’s a little bit more interesting. It’s the same game, but the game board and where you move your workers is a little bit different at a higher level, and the game welcomes that. Again, the game will be expanded very shortly as well. This is a wonderful product from Czech Games Edition, CGE, come out with many good games over the years. You get to know all the publishers of these games over the years. You start looking for publishers in the same way that you might look for certain director and try to see their movies. CGE, lots of good games from them over the years, the Lost Ruins of Arnak, the most recent.

That brings me to the final of our 10 games this year on Games, Games, Games Volume 3, we’re going to go to the letter S for this one, Santa Monica. Now, Santa Monica for hardcore gamers, well, it might strike you as a little light. I would agree with you, not every hardcore strategy game needs to be hard. This one has a weight of 2.2. It plays 2-4 players. Any of those were fine. It’s rating on BoardGameGeek is 7.4, the game designer, Josh Wood has created an incredibly inviting, mellow, chill game set in Southern California, Santa Monica. You’re going to be creating a beach in front of you. You might be trying to bring in a bustling beach full of tourists or something that might appeal to the locals. In-game parlance what you’re doing is you’re drafting cards from the center of the table. You’re all drafting and adding one card to another that’s depicting the beach that you’re building in front of you. But rather than just be a card laying, tile-laying game where you’re just creating a tableau, you also have little wooden ponds, meeples, so-called, and they’re in different colors.

The orange ones are tourists, the blue ones are locals, the green ones are VIPs. What’s cool is you’re marching them around the beach that you are creating, trying to get them to certain places. Rather than just be a card drafting tableau-building game, you’re also marching ponds around trying to score points in different ways, so it adds a whole extra dynamic. This is, again, a lighter game than the other ones that I just mentioned, but you’re just going to have a good time playing Santa Monica. There’s nothing threatening. There’s not even a storm that’s going to mess with anyone’s beach. You can’t reach across the table and kill one of the tourists of your opponents. There’s no particular in-your-face interactivity in the game of Santa Monica. Even just the artwork on the box puts a smile on my face, you’re going to feel like you’re spending a day on the seashore playing games with 1-3 of your good family and friends. Santa Monica, a great one to close out with a horse of a different color compared to the others that I’ve just talked about. I put it in the harder core group, but I will say this, if you find yourself enjoying some of the games I mentioned earlier, like Cascadia, or Spyfall, or High Society, and you’re ready for a bridge up to something a little bit more complex, Santa Monica would be your gateway game before you go to a game like Dune: Imperium.

To summarize, as I did earlier with the casuals, here are the five hardcore games I’m highlighting this year. Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated, that’s game number 1, Dune: Imperium, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, Lost Ruins of Arnak, and Santa Monica. Let me say one thing in closing. I love games. Many a time on this podcast, I’ve talked about losing to win. One of my big themes in life, losing to win, it’s really important. I love games and yet, even though I own hundreds of them, people think that probably I’m really good at them, but I’m actually not a particularly good gamer. I regularly get beaten by people of all ages. I’ll teach a new game to somebody, I’ve played it for years, and they’ll beat me in the first time we play that game together. Winning and losing is not such a big thing to me. I also love cooperative games. We mentioned, for example, The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, a cooperative trick-taking game. Other games like, well, a very popular game like Pandemic, I’m sure some of you have played. We’re all speaking of pandemics, these days, there is some wonderful legacy games which we’ve talked about in past game episodes.

All out there. Pandemic comes in pandemic legacy as well. But the three games I love most, which in their own ways involve a lot of losing too, but I’m trying to get better at them every day, and I hope you are too through this podcast and through The Motley Fool, the games of investing, business, and life. I’ve always thought of investing as an amazing game, and I love keeping score, and we’ve done that together with all the five-stock samplers over the course of years now. Business, well, I’m so pleased and delighted, I would say blessed to have been an entrepreneur, to be an entrepreneur, somebody who’s created a business. I love investing in other people’s businesses.

That’s what we do as investors. But the game of business will always be infinitely interesting to me, and darn it, life. Life when thought of as a game where you can keep score. The big secret is it’s a co-op. It’s not a doggy-dog competitive game life, unless you want to play it that way, really. What happens in business every day, buyers shaking hands with sellers and transacting with each other. We’re all helping each other in a co-operative game of life. Now, if you’ve ever played the game of life, which I think is Milton Bradley or Parker Brothers, that’s not such a good game if you know. A little cards and the Pigott blue pawns a big spinning wheel. That’s not that good game, but the game of life, the one I love talking about in this podcast is. Those are the three games that I loved the most, and I hope I’m helping you get better at each of them. Well, I guess it’s not too early then to say it, is it? Happy holidays. Fool on, and game on.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2022 $1,920 calls on Amazon and short January 2022 $1,940 calls on Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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