With so many amazing board games out there is it possible to single out a favourite game, something you believe to be greater than all the rest? I'm going to have a go at pitching my absolute favourite of all time and that is Carcassonne, specifically Hunters and Gatherers. Here's why.
Why Hunters & Gatherers
Every single game is different. We have a tile-based game here. Either shuffle and stack the tiles or mix them up in a bag. Players take turns to lay a tile and the map builds out. It is impossible for 2 games to be the same and even changing the position of a tile can completely change the way the game builds out. It is impossible for 2 of the same game.
Multiple ways to score. After playing the tile you play your meeple, either on a river, a forest or permanently laying down on his side for a hunting field. There is also the hut token for fish in the river network. You only have 5 meeples (excluding huts) compared with 7 in the original Carcassonne. This creates far more jeopardy and risk on those meeples and future scoring. It needs a little more attention to the risk.
It's fast. Turns are quick and play moves quickly making for an intense game with the score constantly and quickly changing.
A definite end point. This game never lags or takes a long time to finish. As soon as that last tile is played the games is done and count up the final scores. Usually 45 minutes and rarely past an hour.
It's simple in rules but relentless in strategy and trying to outthink/out play your opposition.
It is a 2-5 player game. Gameplay is very different for the total amount of players involved. A two player is a totally different version of the game compared with playing against four other people and requires a different strategy.
I truly love this game. I think all the Carcassonne games are incredible but this one is my absolute favourite of all board games, not just Carcassonne. My box is so beat up as it has been used hundreds of times (and that really isn't an exaggeration). It has been incredibly well used and now I look at the box thinking about all of the history of so many board games.
My History With This Game
I remember my introduction to it on a stag do in 2004. A more mature stag do which was a gaming weekend at a friend's house who had the capacity to host about a dozen or so blokes. What a weekend and I really should try and get involved in another gaming weekend, albeit skipping the suicidal drinking involved with a team game of drinking chess. I stupidly, at 18 years old, decided to do all the heavy shots for the team. Not sensible or to be advised. That was Friday night. Come Saturday evening things calmed down and I got an incredible introduction to Hunters and Gatherers. 4 people playing in this instance and I was hooked. My copy ordered the following week. A person introducing a games can certainly say they've done a good job if the participants are placing their own orders the following week. Then on top of that I now deem it the greatest of all.
Moving along to the early 2010's, my brother and I set up a rivalry head to head at this. Our family and a few close friends have set up a private Facebook group titled "Greatest moments from Board Gaming" used for the highly banter filled moments in board games. One thread within contained a snooker like score of our rivalry at this game. But with no end to it, just keep adding. It ended with my win at approximately 75-65. With life having moved on a few years after starting it seemed a sensible thing to do. We obviously still play, just no longer track the score and that was a refreshing thing to do. But what a series nonetheless.
The random element to this game is truly exceptional in tile drawing. I probably know all the tiles available now within the game and what is potentially available in the game as it plays out but that takes nothing away. The element to sabotage your opponent’s game is also incredibly high. Cutting off their ability to claim back meeples reducing their opportunity to score is always satisfying (so long as it doesn't happen to you so care is needed there). Not always a guaranteed win either. I still scratch my head over this one, but I had cut off 2 of my opponents meeples last time I played and I figured I had the game in the bag (maybe that was my downfall?) but my opponent continued to score and beat me by about 10 points at the end. I couldn't believe it. I also believe that this game is never over until it has finished. I've seen some ridiculous comebacks in the game. All down to luck of the tiles drawn followed by strategy in how you place them to get the best score out of the game. The game has a funny way of levelling itself out.
The game has come on holiday with me to Mexico, Spain, Italy, Scotland and up in the Alps on a skiing trip. We've sat with it in assorted hotel rooms around the UK, caravan parks, in bars and even in the waiting rooms of car Garages and a Sainsbury's cafe. It has put in the miles with me for sure and will continue to do so for many more years to come.
The classic style of Carcassonne put into the rural forestry and rivers of the natural environment. It looks stunning for me but others may see it as quite simple. I would say there is a lot more detail in this game over its original predecessor. Plus, the bonus tile adds some additional quality detailing.
I also thought the game could not get better. A few years ago, Z man games released this as a second edition. I thought it would be identical to its original and so no need to purchase it. It was only in a board game cafe that I realised my error. We got it out and had a game of Hunters and Gatherers. It wasn't the same game and some subtle adjustments have been made. I couldn't believe it been made even better than the original. Now I have the constant dilemma of buying it (I know who from when I do ;-D ). I cannot bring myself to part ways with my original set which I love so much and has brought me so much joy and frustration all at the same time. I also don’t feel I can part way with it when I believe it to be the greatest game of all time. So 2 copies it will no doubt be.
That's my pitch and review of my greatest board game (Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers), if you have never tried it please have a go.