One of the first games I fell in love with was Puerto Rico. Turns out it is #7 in a series of games called the Alea Big Box Series (ABBS). When we got more serious about collecting and had played a few games from the series Krista encouraged me to collect all of them. So our quest began to get them all and so far we have all 15 of them, with the last one just becoming available here in the US in the past month. Here is how I rank them and a quick three sentence review of each.
1. Puerto Rico #7 - My Plays: 51*
Not only the best game in the ABBS, Puerto Rico is one of the best games of all time. In the game you select roles such as Settler or Builder, everyone does that action, but you get a little better benefit as the person selecting it. As you build up your island with plantations, your city grows with buildings, and you ship tobacco and indigo back to the old world. This one is so good that we bought the 10 year anniversary edition at GenCon '12 and play with that one. Which means the box with the #7 on the side just sits there looking pretty to complete my collection.
*I played dozens of games of Puerto Rico before I started tracking my plays, so I'm guessing this is actually over 100 plays. Just ask Derrick and Renee. I'm pretty sure one 4th of July we played it 4 times in a single day.
2. Ra #1 - My Plays: 29
This game is probably my favorite auction game. Players each get 3 or 4 sun tiles with numbers from 1-16 on them. It is a once around auction and once you spend a sun tile, then you are done with it until the next round, so you will only ever buy 9-12 "lots" a game. It is plays absolutely great with 3 players as you collect sets of various tiles. The best part though is forcing your opponent to take something they really don't want to take, because if they don't, then you'll get it for much too cheap with a small sun tile. Also, I have fond memories of facing the gauntlet of Ra where players push their luck trying to get the most stuff before the round ends.
3. The Castles of Burgundy #14 - My Plays: 18
Maybe the ugliest of the ABBS, this game still backs a punch in game play though. Players roll 2 dice every round, select actions with those dice, and build up their countryside. Where this game really shines though is as a 2 player game. It still gives a lot of situations there just isn't enough actions for you to get done what you want to get done, which is the mark of a great game in my mind!
4. In the Year of the Dragon #12 - My Plays: 27
This game was once described to me as "trying to hit yourself in the head with a hammer, just a bit less than everyone else". That is an accurate description of fun! I love this game. Players are trying to make it through a very tough year of bad events that keep happening to them, while keeping their buildings and people safe. You just got to come to terms with the fact that you will lose something and just brace for it. The only downside is that the Double Dragon first turn, which is a gauranteed 24 points, I feel is a bit over powered, which has taken this to #4 instead of #1.
5. Taj Mahal #3 - My Plays: 16
Taj Mahal is essentially an auction game. Players are building palaces in Victorian India (is that even real?). What is so great about it though people can get into a pride race. What I mean by that is very often players will just go all out in a single round, spend a lot of their cards, and then still don't get the item they are trying to bid on. This is an excellent game and one that plays well with 3,4, or 5 players. However, I think my favorite spot is 4 players.
6. Macao #13 - My Plays: 18
There is essentially zero theme here, but it you want some fun and unique decisions with dice, this is a good place to go. The real draw for me in this game is the wheel that turns. You need a lot of dice, but if you take a lot of dice, you have to put them further down the wheel, so you won't get to use them for several turns. Manipulating your dice, using your cards to get a system going, and fighting for position on the wall and to be the first deliver goods makes this a solid game. It is also plays well with 2 players, so you can't go wrong there.
7. Notre Dame #11 - My Plays: 23
There are rats in this game! The plague keeps coming at you, you have to keep defending it off. The board design is really cool looking and looks different (plays exact same) for the different player counts. I like the quick play of the game, with the ever present rat threat. One faster playing games in the series.
8. Princes of Florence #4 - My Plays: 11
Players build neat little buildings in their courtyard to try and get cool artists, mathematicians, etc to visit them. In order for this game to shine, I think you have to have all experienced players and you need 4 or 5 people. Probably 5 people. The problem with the game is that those conditions don't often happen, which has lowered this on my list. It probably would've been a couple levels up a few years ago.
9. Bora Bora #15 - My Plays: 3
The newest edition to the series. Players are doing things in Bora Bora, just not sure what exactly. You have to balance the men and women you get, buy shells, jewelry, get tatoos, all kinds of things going on. Which is why I have it ranked so low right now. There is an absolute ton of stuff in the box though and I can see liking it more as I play it, but right now, it ends in the middle of the pack.
10. Mammoth Hunters #8 - My Plays: 5
I really like the theme, but it doesn't play out as well as it should. I'm one of the few people that I think enjoys this game. There can be plenty of luck in it, but also some good screwage too. When it comes to area control games though, there are plenty out there, which means this one doesn't often see play time.
11. Traders of Genoa #6 - My Plays: 4
This is one that takes the longest in the ABBS. Usually clocking in at 2.5 to 3.5 hours, which is why it doesn't see the table. It has really unique negotiations as players encourage the person who is currently in control of the "cookie crumbs" as I call them to go to the various stores they need to be at. I've had good success playing this game, only losing once I believe out of my 4 plays, but I've owned the game for 4 or 5 years and only played it 4 times, so it is not exactly on the table a lot.
12. Rum & Pirates #10 - My Plays: 5
This game is lightest game on the list in my opinion. Players are pirates going about and trying to collect sets of various things for points. The problem is the game takes about 2 hours, when it should take about 1 hour. I really do like the pirate captain mechanic where each person can spend pirates to get to spots on the board, but it is about the only redeeming quality. I'll play it, but not often.
13. Chinatown #2 - My Plays: 9
This one is set in the 1930s or 1940s Chinatown New York City. It is a negotiation game where you are trying to get different stores built like a jewelry store or laundry mat. My wife used to really like this one and probably at one point called it her favorite game, but I don't like that you know exactly how much a tile is worth. Which takes away the negotiating portion of the game for me and thus drops it so far down on this list.
14. Adel Verplicht #5 - My Plays: 3
I just don't get this game. It is sorta like rock, paper, scissors it seems. Perhaps it could be fun with a full amount of players, but my plays haven't made me want to go back to it. Mostly you are just racing around the board and trying to be the first to get to the end.
15. Fifth Avenue #9 - My Plays: 5
This game is horrible. I would absolutely not own it if it wasn't in the ABBS. The game is boring, doesn't seem to have flow, and even though I like the theme, I wouldn't suggest it to anyone. I can't believe I've actually played it 5 times. I doubt if I'll ever play it again, unless I once again do a quest to play all the ABBS games or all my games in general.