Do you enjoy playing games with mind-boggling chain reactions? Is your ideal game the equivalent of watching a string of dominoes fall over for over 30 minutes straight? If so, I’ve five fantastic games to talk about that deserve your attention!
There is something delightful about playing a tabletop game and conjuring brand-new synergies on the fly. It also helps keep all players engaged, as you get to witness the unthinkable during your opponent’s turn. Today, I’ll be discussing five games that allow players to feel like geniuses and impress the table with awe-inspiring combos.
Donald X. Vaccarino’s 2009 Spiel Des Jahres winner needs little introduction. Easily the most prolific deck-builder in tabletop history, Dominion prides itself in its combo variance. The game has an active subreddit and Discord channel filled with discussions of combo viability. Even if you’re only using the base set, you’ll have a blast chaining together Laboratories or Throne Room-ing a Smithy to draw six cards.
Of course, it’s when you add expansions when things truly get interesting. My personal favourite is Empires, released in 2016. It adds Event and Landmark cards which completely transform the game, along with victory tokens which you earn in various ways. While it’s more complex than the average expansion, the potential for brewing up explosive strategies is staggering.
The most recent expansion, Renaissance, introduces plenty of powerful and fun-to-use cards with varying mechanics. These cards also benefit from not being as complex as those from later expansions. The Second Edition of Intrigue also succeeds in improving the power level of its predecessor, and is one of the more ‘essential’ expansions.
If you’re looking to expand from the base set, I would consider both of these expansions along with Seaside or Prosperity. If you’re new to Dominion, consider the Second Edition Big Box for both the base game and Intrigue in one box. Either way, there is a reason why Dominion is still held in high regard a decade after its release. You’ll never quite build the same deck twice, and the game’s replay-ability and variance is immense.
Ganz Schön Clever
2018 was nothing sort of a breakout year for Wolfgang Warsch. Out of the three games nominated for the Kennerspiel Des Jahres, two were created by Warsch. The Quacks of Quedlinburg won him the award, but the other nominee, Ganz Schön Clever, is what I’ll be examining today.
Many roll-and-write games have appeared over the past few years, however I believe that Ganz Schön Clever is here to stay. The game involves rolling six dice of different colours and using them to mark off coloured zones on your sheet. The sheet at first glance seems incredibly confusing, but once you understand the basics of the game, it becomes a combo playground.
During your turn, you’ll roll the dice three times and take one each time to mark off a square on your sheet. However, there are some twists involved with taking these dice. Taking a high-valued dice causes any lower-valued dice to go onto a ‘silver platter’ for your opponents later on. This also reduces the amount of dice you’ll roll for your second and third rolls.
When you take a dice, you get to mark off a square depending on the colour and value of the dice. For example, taking a yellow dice requires you to mark off a square containing a number matching the dice’s value. You also earn the ability to re-roll as the game progresses, which helps mitigate unfavourable rolls. Once your turn is over, the rest of the dice are placed on the silver platter, and your opponents get to use them for their own sheet.
How do you create combos in this game, you might ask? If you mark off enough squares in a colour zone, you’ll unlock bonuses which let you mark off squares in other colour zones. Completing a row in yellow could earn you a free square in blue, which might then give you a six in purple. That purple six could then let you mark off the next green square...and so forth. Utilising these combos to mark off multiple squares is one of the key factors for scoring well.
The game has since received a sequel, Doppelt So Clever, which I also own and very much enjoy. Doppelt is significantly more complex than its sibling and requires a lot more creative thinking when taking dice. Both games also have incredibly addictive solitaire smartphone apps which I fully recommend. However, little beats a 2-4 player game where you get to witness your opponents chain together five bonuses in a row. The game is very inexpensive considering the enjoyment value it offers and is a delight to play for combo veterans.
It probably comes as little surprise when I state that a Candy Crush-inspired board game is a combo masterpiece. CMON’s marble-picking extravaganza allows for ingenious maneuvers to collect exactly what you need to complete your potions.
The aim of Potion Explosion is to take a marble from the dispenser which causes marbles of matching colours to collide and hence ‘explode’. Any marbles involved in explosions are then yours to use as you attempt to complete your current potions. Once completed, these potions offer one-time effects which help you pull off impressive chain reactions. These effects include obtaining marbles from the dispenser, stealing other players’ leftover marbles or reusing a previously activated potion.
Being creative with your potions is a key element of the game in order to create enticing opportunities. Sometimes you’ll need to activate 2-3 potions in one turn to get exactly what you need, but it can pay off in the long run. You can always get a ‘little help’ by removing a marble from the dispenser at a two victory point cost, which can sometimes benefit your turn greatly.
The game recently received a Second Edition, which upgrades the dispenser used for holding the marbles during gameplay. It’s one of my favourite gateway games, as it feels very familiar while also requiring some clever tactics.
Along with this, it’s as satisfying to look at as it is to sit down and play. I’ve upgraded my marbles to enhance the game’s aesthetic value, but you’re sure to enjoy creating explosions regardless of their appearance.
Century: Golem Edition
Plan B Games brought exciting news recently by announcing the continuation of the Century: Golem series. Released in 2017, Century: Golem Edition is a re-skin of Century: Spice Road with identical mechanics. The difference here is the use of crystals, rather than wooden cubes. Oh, and you also get the sensational fantasy artwork.
Unfamiliar with the Century series? From 2017 to 2019, Emerson Matsuuchi developed a system of three games which can combine to create brand-new games. The series was concluded with A New World this summer, however it was the first entry, Spice Road, that specifically garnered a lot of attention. The game surprised many with its low-complexity yet addictive approach to engine-building and combo-crafting.
Players are tasked with gaining crystals through ‘acquire’ cards and upgrading them using ‘upgrade’ and ‘trade’ cards. These cards are obtained through a public marketplace, which is refilled every time a card is taken. Once your crystals are sufficient, you can use them to build a Golem, scoring you points.
Trade cards in particular are what makes Century: Golem Edition so addictive to play. When you play a trade card, you are given the opportunity to swap the colours of your crystals. One of your trade cards might let you swap a pink gem, the most valuable colour, for three green gems. However, next turn you can play a trade card that swaps three green gems for two pink gems. These combos feel incredibly rewarding and obtaining synergistic trade cards is crucial to build up the crystals you need.
A reprint of The Golem Edition is on the way. Of course, if you’re in a hurry, Century: Spice Road offers the same gameplay. It also offers the benefit of combining with Eastern Wonders and/or A New World, but otherwise, your patience will be rewarded. The switch from wooden cubes to crystals is noteworthy in itself, and personally I much prefer the Golem-themed artwork.
KeyForge: Age of Ascension
I’ll admit, KeyForge sounded very unorthodox when I first heard about it. The game, produced by Fantasy Flight Games and currently in its second iteration, has quite a number of unusual gimmicks. The most notable of these is how every deck is completely unique and has its own name and deck list. However, as someone who got into the hobby through Magic: The Gathering, I understood Richard Garfield’s overall vision for KeyForge.
Many Magic players can recall how their first decks used incredibly situational cards that worked once in a blue moon. KeyForge evokes this nostalgia and benefits from it through its unique deck system. Many KeyForge decks have ways of utilising seemingly mediocre cards to their full potential. Being unable to modify decks forces you to learn your deck and its synergies, along with how it interacts with other decks.
One of my decks has seven Plague Rats, a one-power creature which has an enter effect and not much else. This seemed decent at best, until I realised that I had a card that allows me to destroy my Plague Rats for a huge tempo boost. In one of my games, my opponent also had six Plague Rats of his own. As you can imagine, it was a very entertaining game for both of us.
Many of your deck’s combos aren’t clear until you’re actually playing. Also, it feels great to combine all the necessary pieces. Best of all, if you ever get fed up with your deck, it’s very inexpensive to obtain another. You don’t need to attend tournaments to enjoy KeyForge. Simply pick up a starter set or two decks and you’re ready to play. The game fixes many issues I’ve had with Magic in the past, and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.