Note: This Most Beautiful Thing is excerpted from my essay in the book Hobby Games: The 100 Best published by Green Ronin Publishing, and written by 99 of the most famous game designers in the world and me. No, I’m not so lazy that I couldn’t write something original for today’s entry. This entirely awesome book was just nominated for an Origins Award, and I just wanted everyone reading this to go buy a copy and then vote for the book to win its category. (Then I’ll have, um, 3.01 Origins Awards.) [Follow-up: It did, and I do.]
What: Bohnanza, the best card game ever written about bean farming.
Why: Wait, okay, that’s not the most impressive claim. Let me try again. Bohnanza is the best card game ever written. And it just happens to be about bean farming. In this hilariously illustrated German card game, you get a handful of bean cards. At the start of your turn, you must plant the first card in your hand (and the second, if you want) into your precious two beanfields. Then you draw two cards, which you must plant or trade. Those two cards will rip up the beans you already have in your fields, so you have to get rid of unwanted beans by trading them and maybe other cards from your hand. But—here’s the crazy part—you have to keep your cards in your hand in order. If you can’t get rid of the beans you don’t want, you will later have to plant them and destroy the beans you care about. So you are forced to trade, and that’s where all the wild wheeling and dealing comes in. This game is what Pit wanted to be when it grew up.
Impact: For the ten years after its release in 1997—this sentence blows my mind—Bohnanza never fell out of the top ten current sellers at one of the top board and card game e-tailers. That’s not overall sales through a game’s lifetime, it’s what’s selling that week. That’s ten years as a top ten game. No other board or card game can say that, not Puerto Rico, not Settlers of Catan, not my precious Axis & Allies, nothing. In its own way, Bohnanza is the equivalent of Magic: The Gathering or Dungeons & Dragons: In its category, there is no game that can unseat it from the mountaintop.
Personal Connection: I fell in love with Uwe Rosenberg’s little classic on a two-day luxury train ride from Seattle to Los Angeles in 1998, when we only packed entertainment that could fit in a handbag. Between the wine-and-cheese tastings, we logged something like 50 games of Bohnanza on that trip down the Pacific coast, and 50 more on the way back.
Other Contenders: Falling, a real-time card game in which you are all falling, and the object is to hit the ground last; Set, a card-matching game for which any brain cells you devote to becoming good at cannot be used for anything else; Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper, a deductive game where the possibility of no one being caught is a very real one; Fluxx, a game in which the players build the rules as they go along; Credo, in which you revise the fundaments of Christianity one blasphemous utterance at a time.