• Bertrand

The Route

In 1983 my mom rode her bike from England to Istanbul. To do this she had to cross the Iron Curtain and cycle into eastern bloc countries such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. I'm not as brave or adventurous as her, but I wanted to do something similar during my last summer of freedom before beginning my PhD program. Paris was chosen as the starting and ending point because it was the only airport where I could find direct flights with ample leg room. When you're 6'9" (206 cm to my friends I met on the trip), leg room on a ten hour flight is a matter of life and death. If only I had planned the start of my tour with the same attention to detail I had bought my tickets with. I had a vague idea that once I landed in Paris I would ride to France's northern coast and then head east to eventually reach Scandinavia. From there I thought I might wander up north to the Arctic Circle in Norway and catch a glimpse of the midnight sun. As you can see from the map above, it didn't quite work out that way.


The black pin on the map is Paris and my journey started on the teal line heading west (teal for cycling, red for trains/ferries). Due to a combination of disorientation and jet lag, I ended up sleeping on a park bench on my first night in France. Things didn't improve much from there. After awaking at 4:00 am, I tried to use the river Seine as my guide to reach the coast. Obviously a river flows to the ocean right? So all I have to do is keep it on my right hand side and it'll take me straight to where I want to go! Well it turns out that Paris has two rivers going through it (???). This resulted in me riding around in circles all morning. Nearby to the park where I slept I noticed a statue of Gandhi in a town square. Two hours later I came upon a statue of Gandhi again and thought to myself, "Wow, the French must really love this guy." Turns out it was the same exact statue. Two hours of riding later.


Clearly I needed to sort out my navigation issues. But how could I do this without cellular-data-fueled Google Maps to guide me?


Relaxing on the Seine


Phase 1:

McDonald's Hopping


All McDonald's in the world (*except Germany) have WiFi! So if I could find one of those, now I could pre-load routes onto my phone, and use the GPS capability to make sure I was following them! McDonald's also conveniently solved some problems with language anxiety I was feeling at the time. Ordering food in a foreign language was daunting for me throughout the trip, but I had seen Pulp Fiction enough times to know that the magic words at any French McDonald's were "Royale with Cheese". In retrospect I ate way too much McDonald's food when I should have been enjoying the local food...


It probably says something about my addiction to the internet that McDonald's became my oases. They were social media sanctuaries in what was otherwise an Airplane-mode desert. Even upon returning to the US, whenever I notice a McDonald's along the road my brain gets a little tingle of endorphin-fueled anticipation. But I don't expect I'll ever eat at one again.


From one McDonald's to the next I leapfrogged my way around France and into Belgium. The bike infrastructure improved dramatically once I crossed the Belgian border and it was a real joy to ride on.


The French countryside in Normandy

Dieppe, on the English Channel

Into Belgium, land of waffles

Fairy tale town of Bruges

On my way out of Belgium

Phase 2:

Dutch Daydream or Netherlands Nightmare?


On the sixth day of the journey I rode into the Netherlands, aka the Mecca of cycling. What could be better than a country that is completely flat, picturesque, and is carpeted in protected bike lanes? In fact, it appears to be possible to ride from one end of the Netherlands to the other without ever leaving a bike path or bike lane. What should have been easy, stress-free, riding for a few days, however, turned into one of the most harrowing experiences of my whole trip.


My mistake was in not planning a sleeping spot for my first day in Holland. I had easily wild camped one time in France already, so I figured I could find similar spots here. Or, failing that, I would come upon a cheap hotel or hostel to stay at on my way north from the southern border of Holland to Amsterdam. I cycled for hours and hours but could not find any accommodations that met either criteria. The countryside was too developed with farmlands or suburbs to wild camp (the ideal locations for setting up an illegal tent are in secluded wooded areas), and every hotel I passed in southern Holland was far too bougie for a disheveled and sweat-drenched cyclist like myself. At about 11:00 PM I gave up and tried to rest on a bench beside the Rotterdam harbor for a few hours. In keeping with my bad luck from earlier, it began to pour rain at 3:00 AM and I had no choice but to pack up and continue riding in the dark and in the rain.


Without my carefully planned out McDonald's network, I cycled in a general northward direction—towards what I thought was the city glow of Amsterdam far off in the distance. When I found out that the glow was actually from the very bright lights of an artificially-lit greenhouse, I nearly lost all hope. Somehow I meandered into Amsterdam at around 4:00 PM and immediately checked into a cheap hotel to escape the persistent rain. The upside to being confined inside my room was that it gave me plenty of time to plan out my next several nights of accommodation—as well as expand my crucial McDonald's map network.


Cycling towards the glow

And this is what I found

When it stopped raining for 5 minutes in Amsterdam

Cycling north out of Amsterdam

A campground in northern Netherlands

Phase 3:

Do I Even Like This?


I spent the next week or so riding through Germany, then taking a ferry to Denmark, riding up the coast to Copenhagen, taking another ferry across to Sweden, and then riding up the western coast of Sweden on my way to Gothenburg. At this point in the trip I was finally settling into the routine. McDonald's in Germany don't provide WiFi for some reason, so I had to adapt and plan my routes out further than normal. I also became better at wild camping and found great spots to sleep in Germany and Sweden. The actual cycling became easier as well, as my physical fitness improved. My longest day in terms of mileage (130 miles in about 13 hours of riding) was during my second day in Germany when the weather finally became pleasant again.


While I enjoyed certain aspects of the trip—for example, Copenhagen was a beautiful city and was a wondrous display of proper urban biking infrastructure—the interminability of the trip began to weigh down hard. At every prior stage of the trip I had thought to myself "I might not be loving this at the moment but as soon as I get to X, everything is going to be awesome!" (Replace X with "the French coast", "the great bike paths in the Netherlands/Denmark", or "the rugged natural beauty of Scandinavia in Sweden"). About halfway up the coast of Sweden it finally hit me that there wasn't going to be a dramatic improvement in anywhere I went, and that this was basically it in terms of the day-to-day experience of cycling across Europe. This depressing realization was enough to get me to hop off my bike and grab the next train north to Gothenburg (see red section in Sweden on map above).


It was only towards the end of my whole trip that I realized the error in my "it'll get better once I reach X" mentality. If, instead of killing myself cycling 100+ mile days in the hopes of reaching a particular country or region faster, I had taken my time and simply enjoyed wherever I might be, the first few weeks of the trip would have been much more enjoyable. My main piece of advice to anyone thinking of doing a similar long-distance bike tour would be to forcibly impose leisure upon yourself. Stop at a proper campground early in the afternoon and enjoy wandering around the nearby town. Don't do what I did and cycle all day until just before dark (usually around 9:30 or 10:00 PM) and then desperately search around for wild camping locations.



Wild Camping in Germany

Taking a ferry across the Elbe

Cycling north in Denmark out of Copenhagen

The rocky western coast of Sweden

Phase 5:

Troll Country


Gothenburg was a major turning point in the trip. The two days I spent there reinvigorated my excitement for the trip and raised my spirits considerably. This was probably due to a few reasons. First, the fact that Sweden and Norway permitted wild camping basically anywhere that wasn't explicitly private land took a ton of stress out of each day. Because these countries were so wooded, I knew I'd always be able to find a great place to sleep every night. Second, the natural splendor of the Scandinavian scenery kept increasing as I rode north. I realized that this was the sort of outdoors I really enjoyed—not the bucolic fields of France and Germany. And thirdly, I began listening to the fantastic audio book version of The Lord of the Rings during this time. The rugged scenery matched the events in the book perfectly and I began to strongly identify with the hobbits Frodo and Sam. Like them, I was lost and out of my element, and all I wanted was to be at home with a proper warm-cooked meal.


I found Oslo to be a miserable city (poor biking infrastructure, super crowded, and 40% of the downtown was under construction at the time I was there), but that was only a minor hiccup during my growing contentment while cycling through Norway. Mile after mile of riding alongside fjords, with steep green slopes to my right and crystal blue water to my left, made for a perfect journey. Even when I had to finally climb up and out of the valleys (covering 3000 feet of elevation gain in about 10 miles of distance) I had nothing to complain about. But the further north I traveled, the more I had to ride alongside busy highways packed with holiday-makers in their RV's. Scandinavian drivers are usually extremely courteous towards cyclists, but by the time I reached Trondheim I had reached my limit in terms of cars zooming away inches from me as they passed.


Trondheim would prove to be the northernmost point I'd reach on the trip (217 miles south of the Arctic Circle). I decided to turn towards the southeast at this point because it looked like I would be cycling alongside busy highways if I wanted to go any further north in Norway. One downside of the beautiful Norwegian fjords and mountains is that all vehicle traffic is then increasingly concentrated in just a few roads. So I took a train just over the border back to Sweden and planned to continue my trip south to Stockholm. This phase of the trip in Sweden turned out to be a lot better than the last time I'd been there. As I coasted down the mountains on my way towards the Baltic Sea, my spirits were considerably higher than those of my friends on their way to Mordor.



The authentic IKEA

Sleeping on a moss slope in Sweden

The fjord on the Swedish/Norwegian border

Overlooking a fjord

The beautiful Norwegian highlands

Troll!

Cycling through the Swedish highlands near Storlien

A lovely place for a picnic

Back to civilization in Stockholm

Phase 6:

Cruising Through the Baltics


I had been cycling for over a month by the time I left Stockholm on August 7th. You'd think I would've lost some weight during that time, but if I did, it wasn't noticeable. Evidently it is possible to offset the burning of 5000+ calories a day if you subsist on mostly croissants, donuts, and candy bars. I also consumed about a week's worth of food on the overnight ferry I took from Stockholm to Tallinn. Having six plates at a buffet make the 30 euro price to eat worth it!


My route through the Baltics took me south from Tallinn, in the north of Estonia, through Riga in Latvia, and then to Vilnius in Lithuania. Despite noticeably worse cycling infrastructure in these countries (what would have been smooth paved farm roads in Western Europe were generally bumpy gravel here in the East), my week in the Baltics was great. Coming from Scandinavia, whose countries have some of the highest standards of living in the world, Eastern Europe was incredibly cheap. Food seemed to cost about 60% of the Scandinavian prices and I could find beds in hostels for under $10 a night. I want to give a particular shout-out to Vilnius. This beautiful city in a remote corner of Europe was probably my favorite place to stay on the whole trip. You saw old Soviet architecture mixed with modern sleek high-rises, all surrounding a gorgeous medieval downtown. After Vilnius I cycled another two days over the Polish border and officially ended my cycling journey in the town of Augustow.



My quarters on the ferry across the Baltic Sea

The park and art museum in Tallinn

Tallinn. Like other E. European cities has a great juxtaposition of the new and the old

The Gulf of Riga

Crossing from Latvia to Lithuania

Vilnius at night

The final terminus

The Last Phase:

Coming Home


From Augustow I took trains back westward. I stopped for a night in Warsaw, Berlin, and Cologne along the way. And then I completed one last mini tour from Cologne to Brussels, via Masstricht in the Netherlands, on my bike. The flat, paved bike paths of Western Europe that I had grown so bored with during the first half of my trip were a welcome joy after dealing with the Scandinavian and Baltic wildernesses for the past three weeks. I finally felt like this might be something I would want to do again.


If I were to take another bike tour, I'd do several things different. The first would be riding a more heavy-duty bike with wider tires. Unless you only plan to ride around the Netherlands and Belgium, you're going to have to go off-road at some point on your trip. There were extended periods of riding on dirt roads in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, and it would have even helped with the annoying cobblestones they have everywhere in France and Germany. Next, I would absolutely get a SIM card and European data plan. The reliance on intermittent WiFi for my navigation led to so much stress and frustration during the early days of the trip. As we have seen, relying on McDonald's is tempting fate. Lastly, like I mentioned earlier, if I were to go on a long bike trip again I would pace myself much more conservatively. It sounds obvious in retrospect, but the whole point of traveling is to enjoy your surroundings. To do this you have to stop pedaling every once and a while.



The site of the 1992 Masstricht Treaty. Creating the modern European Union

Good luck Ursula von der Leyen!

Back in Paris after 7 weeks

Packing up at the Paris airport

  • Bertrand

Updated: 4 days ago

Board gaming can be an expensive hobby. I own over 130 games, and when you consider that each cost somewhere between $30 and $60, that's a lot of money spent! Therefore I try to put a lot of time and effort into researching specific games before I buy them. I read reviews and watch YouTube videos about the game, as well as asking friends whether they have heard of or played the game. So far this strategy has reduced the amount of forgotten board games in my collection. Ones which I excitedly bought, unwrapped and read the rule book for, then set on my bookshelf to languish, unplayed, forever.


But for one category of board games it is impossible to collect this kind of information before making a purchase. These are the games which are funded through the website Kickstarter. With Kickstarter the idea is that you're pre-ordering a game before the game has even been made. So you have to put your money down before there are any reviews or word-of-mouth to go on! I've only backed a couple games on Kickstarter—expansions to games I already own—but I wanted to see if I could use maching learning to make predictions about how good a new Kickstarter game would likely be.


To start with, I would need lots of data on existing board games. I decided to collect this by web-scraping the website BoardGameGeek using Python. BoardGameGeek contains information for pretty much every game ever made and allows users to rate each game on a scale from 1 to 10. This rating would be my target attribute (or dependent variable) on which I would test the predictive ability of various other features of a given game. Below are some screenshots showing the data I collected from BoardGameGeek's database of games (the extracted information is highlighted in red).




BoardGameGeek has close to 105,000 games in its database but I decided to stop after collecting data on only 2,500 for a few reasons. First, after a few thousand deep (starting from the most highly-rated), the games began to lack key pieces of information. These are games very few people have ever played or even heard of, so I wanted my sample to contain only relatively popular games. Second, web-scraping takes a ton of time. In order not to overload BoardGameGeek's servers, I set a timer to wait five seconds between each page request while scraping. So this meant it took over seven hours to gather data on just 2,500 games!


It was now time to start analyzing. After converting my all my categorical features into dummies (e.g. creating a new feature called "Economic" for which each game had a value of 0 or 1 depending on whether it fit into the Economic category of games), I was left with a data set that had 1261 columns. Evidently there are lots and lots of way to categorize games! The statistics gods will smite you if you try to plug 1260 features into a linear regression equation, so I would need a way to select only those which were most import for predicting the average rating of a particular game.


The solution was using a random forest regression to rank each of my dummies based on importance (for predicting a game's average rating). The graph below shows the top ten features my random forest model found:

I then took the first seven features from the list above and plugged them into a linear regression model to see how they performed. The result was an R-squared with a paltry value of 0.215 (a medium or strong relationship would have been upwards of 0.6 or 0.7). So although I found the features which "best" predicted whether a game would have a high rating or not, there remains a lot of unexplained "noise" in the model.



Summary

Sadly I was left with a model that produced no useful predictive power for deciding whether to back a Kickstarter campaign. You may already be thinking of a few things that were wrong in my assumptions. First, does the average rating, as defined by BoardGameGeek users, really tell us anything about whether any one individual will enjoy a game? Certainly not for me! Sure I enjoy many of the games in the top 100, but there are some I can't stand! Pandemic Legacy: Season 2, perhaps the worst board game experience I have ever had to endure, is rated #33. And my beloved 878 Vikings (from my top 10 list) is way down at #741!


This reveals the real problem with my attempted analysis: taste in board games is far too variable to be predicted by any collection of features a game might have. For example, I have a friend whose name starts with a "C" and rhymes with "Blonnor" who hates word games, yet to me games like Codenames, Decrypto, or Crosstalk (rated #2274?!) are some of my all-time favorites! There are so many different board games and so many different types of people who enjoy them.


Just for fun I also decided to see whether a game's weight (i.e. complexity) on scale of 1 to 5 could predict its average rating. The results show you just how much variance there is in people's preference of games. Sad to say that, although still inadequate, the weight of a game does a better job at predicting its rating than my fancy random forest algorithm earlier.


Each dot represents one board game

  • Bertrand

Updated: Sep 9, 2019

For almost ten years, board gaming has been my number one hobby. This comes as a surprise to people whose conception of board gaming is limited to those awful nights playing Monopoly. But there is so much more to board gaming than the standard Monopoly, Risk, Sorry, or Chess. Even the relatively interesting and complex Settlers of Catan has been surpassed by many other games with similar themes. Board games nowadays come in endless rich varieties. So much so, in fact, that I believe everyone likes board games. People who think they don't simply haven't found the right one yet!


I'm writing this to highlight a few of my favorite games, and to help show how much this great hobby has to offer. Here is a list of of the ones I love the most from bottom to top:



10. Leaving Earth

1-5 Players, 45 minutes per player

Leaving Earth is about the mid-20th century space race between the United States and Soviet Union (other countries can also be involved). Each player takes charge of a space agency and is tasked with researching technology, assembling rockets with capsules to create spacecraft, and calculating routes to and from celestial objects in our solar system. Your goal is to complete more challenging objectives than anyone else (e.g. sending a human into space is worth less than landing a human on the moon, which is worth less than finding life on Mars).


For a game that involves lots of math and careful planning, Leaving Earth might appear stodgy or tedious when you first sit down to play. I'll absolutely admit it's probably not a game for everyone. But if you stick with it, you'll find that Leaving Earth is unexpectedly hilarious. There is inherent comedy in the risk versus speed element to the game. For example, only the first country to land a person on the moon earns that objective, but it takes time to research safe technology or you run the risk of malfunctions. So I guarantee the entire table will burst out laughing when your immaculately assembled spaceship, which cost three years and $80 million to build, crash lands on Mars because you thought you could get away with poorly designed landing gear. I've only played Leaving Earth a few times unfortunately, which is probably the only reason it's so low on this list.



9. Mysterium

2-7 Players, 1 hour

This is a game which really shakes up people's preconceived notions about board games. Firstly, it's cooperative. This means every player is working together to reach a common goal. Secondly, Mysterium involves asymmetric roles. One person is the omniscient "ghost" and is trying to help the remaining "investigators" figure out a murder mystery. But the ghost cannot speak—instead it must communicate to everyone else using only a deck of cards. Each card has a unique piece of cryptic art which can relate to either the person who did the murdering, the place the murder happened, or the murder weapon (yes, this is a Clue spin-off). But there are no set rules on how the art on the cards relates to anything else! It's all up to the ghost's interpretations.


Mysterium is my favorite game to introduce to people new to the hobby. The cooperative element means new players are never at risk of being demolished by those who are more experienced. Everyone wins together or everyone loses together! And because the clue cards can be interpreted in so many different ways, everyone has a plausible rationale for the choices they make throughout the game. This reduces the chance any single player will be blamed by the group if everyone loses. Lastly, the theme is terrifically spooky and is therefore required gaming on every Halloween.



8. Captain Sonar

8 Players, 30 minutes

Imagine the game Battleship, but instead of being boring, slow, and random it's exciting, fast, and tactical! Captain Sonar is a team game in which players line up on opposites sides of a table and assume the command of a particular station on a opposing submarines. Unlike almost every other board game, however, players don't take turns. Everything, from moving the submarine, using the torpedoes and sonar, fixing broken stuff, and tracking the enemy submarine's movements are all done in real time. Because there are mechanical limitations to how fast the game allows you can do things, the team with the most efficient coordination will win and blow up the enemy sub!


Captain Sonar had the potential to be even higher on my list but it's hurt by the fact that the game experience can be a bit hit-or-miss. Sometimes you play with seven other people who are all just as enthusiastic, and at the same skill level, as you are and it's great! But if one or two players aren't into it, or feel overwhelmed by the speed of the game, it can really bring things down for everyone else. Captain Sonar is a machine which demands lots of oil from all players to run properly.



7. 878 Vikings

4 Players, 1 hour 30 minutes

I have trouble describing to people why this game is so good (the goofy box art definitely doesn't help). The premise involves the Vikings and the English battling it out over the British countryside. Like Risk, 878 Vikings uses dice—but the combat system never feels dull and tedious. This is because there's a fairly high probability that one, or both sides', units will flee the battle every time a round of battle takes place. This leads to hilarious outcomes where the local village people gallantly rise up to defend their town from the viking horde, only to all immediately run away at the first sign of danger.


Like Captain Sonar, 878 Vikings is also a team game. This is such an inherently fun dynamic because it takes away so much stress that would normally occur in these sort of competitive war games. 878 Vikings also doesn't expect one team to completely eliminate the other team—instead the attacking Vikings and defending English play a tug-of-war over cities on the map and whichever side controls the most when the game ends wins. Captain Sonar is the "fixed" Battleship and 878 Vikings is the "fixed" Risk. And if you're not into the vikings theme, there are very similar versions of this game for the American Revolutionary War, the French Indian War, and the War of 1812.



6. Scythe

2-5 Players, 2 hours

In Scythe, each player controls a faction in a post-World War I alternate reality setting. Your goal is to collect the most money (through conquering territory or conquering objectives) when the game ends. It's a tricky game to describe beyond that though. On the one hand it's about resource collection and management. But on the other hand it's about war and exploration. Clearly the designers of Scythe picked and chose pieces from lots of other strategy games (such as Settlers of Catan) and assembled them together into one big beautiful mess.


You will enjoy Scythe if you can find elegance in the chaotic mix of disparate objectives and game play mechanisms. For some, it will all be an awful mess that elicits annoyance and boredom over the two-plus hours it takes to play. But for others, there will be a moment when they say "Ohhhh...." and suddenly everything starts clicking into place. As a member of this latter group, I enjoy Scythe immensely whether I win or lose. It's just such an engaging puzzle. Another thing to mention about Scythe is that it is a gorgeous game in terms of art design. The art is so good that I even have a print of it hanging in my room.



5. Galaxy Trucker

2-4 Players, 1 hour

Galaxy Trucker earns its place on this list by being the funniest game I've ever played. During the first stage of the game all players are rushing to build a spaceship by grabbing parts from the center of the table which need to be fit together in particular ways. Like Captain Sonar, this is done in real time and everyone has to stop one minute after the first player finishes their ship. After this mad dash to assemble a semi-functional spaceship, everyone faces a series of challenges in space. The general goal here is to collect more cargo than anyone else—but more often than not you'll be lucky to make it through the challenges with your ship even intact! Hazard such as asteroids, aliens, and slavers either tear apart your ship or steal your crew/cargo. There's nothing funnier than seeing someone's magnificent spaceship reduced to little more than a single engine and a couple cabin spaces by the end of the round.



4. Letters From Whitechapel

2-6 Players, 1 hour 30 minutes

Random chance makes lots of games fun. In this list, Leaving Earth, 878 Vikings, and Galaxy Trucker all have significant elements of luck which invariably lead to hilarious outcomes. But sometimes you'd rather play a board game which is pure skill. Letters From Whitechapel is a game which pits your wits against your opponents with a Chess-like level of tactical thinking. Like Mysterium, Whitechapel gives players different roles with asymmetric information. But whereas the ghost and the investigators in Mysterium are working together to solve a mystery, in Whitechapel the investigators are trying to thwart the Jack and Ripper player from carrying out his gruesome murders.


The game uses a map of London's Whitechapel neighborhood on which the investigators move their pieces around trying to find Jack's home. The Jack the Ripper player doesn't have a piece to move around—instead they secretly record the spaces they travel on a sheet on paper, and only reveal locations on it if an investigator crosses the trail. Because the investigators are usually a few steps behind Jack, they need to use clever deductive thinking to figure out his likely destinations. But is Jack bluffing? Is he simply moving in one direction, only to backtrack over his steps and head in the opposite direction? The simple rules of Letters From Whitechapel lead to some of the most interesting mind games I've ever encountered in board gaming.



3. Twilight Imperium

3-6 Players, 6+ hours

Twilight Imperium is the board game to end all board games. It's an epic space opera that takes a minimum of six hours to play. There's something in it for everyone: warfare, diplomacy, trade, science. Focusing on just one aspect of the game is not enough for your empire to win. To triumph in this crazy space marathon players must artfully weave all facets of this wonderfully complex game together.


There's so much to talk about with Twilight Imperium that I could write a whole post on it. But there's one thing in particular which I think makes TI really stand out, and that's the political dynamics each group brings to the game. I usually play TI with a group of players who generally dislike direct competition in games. A few even claim this game isn't about fighting or conquest (though they act differently when I threaten to demolish their home planet with my War Suns)! This means that attacking someone out of opportunity or aggression will immediately turn you into a pariah, thus cutting you out of trade deals or technology sharing. So, just as in real life international relations, players spend a long time building up a credible rationale for attacking their opponents in order to avoid reprisals from other players. Bluster and "revenge" for perceived slights play important roles in this as well. These political maneuvers are part of the reason why Twilight Imperium transcends so many other board games.



2. Terra Mystica

2-5 Players, 2 hours

I love this game. It's just the most lovely, perfect game I've ever played. Everything works together in such a beautiful way that makes every game a unique and wonderful puzzle. The gameplay is similar to Scythe's in that players are building a civilization and spreading their empire across the map. But Terra Mystica has no combat—all the magical races of creatures can live side by side in harmony (except the stupid Riverwalkers. We hate them). That's not to say there isn't player interaction, however. Players compete with each other for territory, bonus powers, and of course, favor with the four mystical cults.


As I'm trying to write this description of Terra Mystica, I'm realizing that it doesn't have many of the same flashy traits we've seen in the other games on this list. Rather, it's just an impeccably made game of little wooden buildings and magical bowls of purple power pieces. I think my reason for adoring it so much is very personal. I started playing Terra Mystica just as much obsession with board games started to flourish. And the memories I have playing this game are so dear and special to me (thanks Matt and Megan!).



1. The Resistance

5-10 Players, 30 minutes

This spot could have been taken by other social deduction games, such as Secret Hitler or One Night Ultimate Werewolf, but I chose the Resistance because it is the one which I've consistently had the most fun with over the years. For those who don't know, social deduction games generally involve two teams of players each trying to achieve certain goals. But everyone's identity is a secret which means you need to lie, bluff, cajole, beg, intimidate, and double-cross others in order to help your team to victory.


I don't know what it says about me that I enjoy games where lying plays such a crucial role. In any case, there is just something so satisfying about winning over enough people's trust that they select you for the final mission, and it's your vote which decides the outcome of the entire game. I have a bad habit of gloating loudly in those situations, which is probably part of the reason why I am immediately distrusted by most of the table as soon as the game begins. In the end I had to put the Resistance number 1 on this list because I've played it the most and it never gets old.