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Top 10 Card Games of 2008

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This was a fantastic year for new card games. My picks for the best card games published in 2008 include a wide variety, with two party games, two movie-themed games, a children's game, and several strategy games on the list. Here are my top 10 card games of 2008.

1. Dominion

Dominion
Image courtesy of Rio Grande Games
For 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up. Designed by Donald X. Vaccarino, published by Rio Grande Games and Hans im Glück.
This deck-building card game grows more addictive each time I play. Players all begin with the same 10 cards: seven copper pieces and three victory points (VPs). You have a hand of five cards; a basic turn consists of using one action and buying one card. New cards either give you new abilities (e.g., increasing the available number of actions or forcing other players to work with just three cards) or add to your VPs. Although you need VPs to win, during the game VP cards waste precious space in your hand. Fans of collectible cards games will feel at home with Dominion, but it is also a fantastic family strategy game.

2. Ticket to Ride Card Game

Ticket to Ride Card Game
Image courtesy of Days of Wonder
For 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up. Designed by Alan R. Moon, published by Days of Wonder.
This card game version of Ticket to Ride will feel familiar to fans of the board game series (which includes the original Ticket to Ride and four other board games), but it adds a modest memory element and has a unique card-playing system. You collect sets of train cards which are then used to complete routes between two cities. To actually use train cards, you must first play them face up for a round and they can be wiped out by your opponents. The only thing missing in the box are some card racks, which would have been extremely helpful. But that's a minor criticism of another excellent game in the Ticket to Ride series.

3. Time's Up: Title Recall

Time's Up Title Recall
Image courtesy of R&R Games
For 3 to 18 players, ages 12 and up. Designed by Michael Adams and Peter Sarrett, published by R&R Games.
The original Time's Up is one of my favorite party games and one of my favorite family games. Here, the names of celebrities are replaced with the titles of books, movies, songs, and more. In each of three rounds, one player tries to get his team to guess as many titles as possible. The same titles are used for all three rounds, but clue-givers face increasing restrictions. In the first round, nearly any clue is acceptable. In the second round, clue-givers can only say one word per title (but may use charades and sounds). For the third round, no words are permitted. Never have I played Time's Up without plenty of tear-inducing laughter.

4. The Princess Bride: Storming the Castle

Princess Bride: Storming the Castle
Image courtesy of Toy Vault
For 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up. Designed by Aaron Watson, published by Toy Vault.
I'm a huge fan of the film The Princess Bride, but it was released in 1987 -- so I did not expect to see a new card game based on it two decades later. In this light strategy game, players start by randomly building their own paths to the castle. (The paths will include such locations as the Cliffs of Insanity, the Fire Swamp, and the Ravine -- all familiar to fans of the movie.) They then race to reach the castle first, rescuing Buttercup from her pending marriage. Success in Storming the Castle requires the clever collection and use of tactic cards, which can also be used to make your opponents' journey more challenging. Have fun storming the castle!

5. Witch's Brew

Witch's Brew
Image courtesy of Rio Grande Games
For 3 to 5 players, ages 9 and up. Designed by Andreas Pelikan, published by Rio Grande Games and Alea.
Collecting ingredients to complete magic potions is the theme of this delightful bluffing game. In a round, each player chooses 5 of 12 characters each round, and each character has two abilities (such as taking more ingredients, or stealing from other players). When someone plays a character card, his opponents who chose the same card in that round have two option: to play their card and eliminate his ability to use the character entirely, or to allow him to use the character while giving themselves the chance to use the character's less powerful ability. By collecting ingredients and brewing potions, players earn victory points.

6. The Hanging Gardens

Hanging Gardens
Image courtesy of Rio Grande Games
For 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up. Designed by Din Li Tsan, published by Rio Grande Games and Hans im Glück.
Hanging Gardens is an excellent family strategy game. Players first choose cards to build their gardens, restricted by an inability to build gardens except on top of previously played areas (cards each have some mix of gardens and blank areas). When a player has put together an area that has three or more adjacent spaces of the same garden type, she can choose a tile which will be scored at the end of the game. The tiles work in connection with each other, so that players need to work to collect sets which will maximize their scoring. A nice balance between strategy and luck is one of the reasons I enjoy The Hanging Gardens.

7. Say Anything

Say Anything
Image courtesy of North Star Games
For 3 to 8 players, ages 13 and up. Designed by Dominic Crapuchettes and Satish Pillalamarri, published by North Star Games.
This party game from the creators of Wits and Wagers is tremendous fun and will lead to many interesting conversations. Gameplay is simple: On her turn, a player draws a card and chooses a question to ask. The other players each quickly write down an answer and toss it face-up on the table. The player whose turn it is secretly chooses her favorite, and the other players bet on her answer. The questions range from potentially suggestive ("If you could have a big anything, what would it be?") to intriguingly deep ("What's the most important invention of the last century?"). Expect plenty of fun and surprises.

8. Red Dragon Inn and Red Dragon Inn 2

Red Dragon Inn 2
Image courtesy of Slugfest Games
For 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up. Designed by Cliff Bohm, Colleen Skadl, and Geoff Bottone, published by Slugfest Games.
This roleplaying-themed card game is a blast of light-hearted fun. After destroying monsters and collecting treasure, you and your friends decide to visit the Red Dragon Inn. While playing cards to drink, gamble, and brawl a little, you try to be the last one standing -- because that is how you win the game. Red Dragon Inn 2 adds new adventurers. It can be played as a standalone game, or it can be combined with the original Red Dragon Inn to allow up to eight players at once.

9. Reels & Deals: The Movie-Making Card Game

Reels & Deals
Image courtesy of Agman Games
For 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up. Designed by Asha Agnish and Eric Kesselman, published by Agman Games.
Reels & Deals is all about making films. Players each run a movie studio, competing to get movies made which will make them money and score points. On each turn, players choose three actions from a menu of seven. Actions include acquiring scripts, hiring actors and directors, "selling" actors and directors to talent agencies, and playing producer cards. This is a light strategy game, and it should appeal to both casual gamers and some serious gamers. The directors and actors are mostly parodies of real people (e.g. Morg Kloonie instead of George Clooney, Jodie Angelina rather than Angelina Jolie).

10. Hang Four: The Ruff Surfin' Card Game

Hang Four
Image courtesy of Gamewright
For 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up. Designer not credited, published by Gamewright.
By rolling a die to build sand-dollar bankrolls, players put themselves in position to collect sets of surfing dogs in this children's strategy game. To complete a surfboard, you need the front and back of the board, along with a middle section which includes a dog. Each card costs three sand dollars. Players can also buy (for two sand dollars) surf shack cards. One type of surf shack card (the wipeout) hurts the player using it; the other two types allow you to take money or surfboard cards from other players. At the end of the game, the player with the most complete surfboards wins. The artwork is very colorful and cartoon-like, a sure hit for children.

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