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I know -- a heading like that is likely to court controversy until the day I die, or my tenure with Sumo is ended (much the same thing). As I don't yet know the outcome (I'm making this up as I go along), the result will be as much as a surprise to me as it is to you. And away we go.

In order to simplify matters, I've arrived at a short list of 25 games, the majority of which would feature on most definitive compilations. From this point, I intend to make some barbed comment to eliminate them from the final reckoning (akin to dismissing the movie Spartacus because Kirk Douglas isn't Greek). Those that pass muster will earn the title ``contender'' and live to fight another day. The only qualification in the choice of games is my own propensity for those of the sports and general variety, so the wargame/abstract crowd would have a legitimate beef.

``Gentlemen, start your engines...''

ACQUIRE. I wouldn't presume to offer a negative comment about this business classic. Contender.

ADEL VERPFLICHTET. Too clever by half. Repetitive.

AVE CAESAR. Frustrating if you get stuck (I know that's the point!).

AXIS AND ALLIES. Too difficult for the Axis.

CIVILIZATION. An unlucky initial card deal could quickly stifle progress.

COSMIC ENCOUNTER. Suffers from the ``let's all attack the leader'' syndrome.

DIE MACHER. Lugubrious.

DIPLOMACY. A non-starter for the inarticulate.

18XX. Some are better (1830/35) than others, but still a contender.

ELECTION. A poor choice for those with a limited memory.

ELFENROADS. Convoluted auction rule.

FACE-OFF. Lack of penalty stats during powerplays kills this off.

FOOTBALL STRATEGY. The Shaw/Greenwood partnership's finest hour, with just a question mark against the kicking game.

FORMEL EINS. Silly bidding rule.

FORMULA 1. Superceded by others in this genre.

HARE AND TORTOISE. ``Stuck in the middle with you''.

HOMAS TOUR. An itsy-bitsy luck orientated.

METRIC MILE. Brilliant race system earns contender status.

MODERN ART. Close to perfection. Contender.

RAF. Arguably the finest rule book in gaming history. Contender.

RISK. Tortuous endgame -- ``everyone get Johnny''.

STATIS PRO BASKETBALL. Cop-out double-team rule.

UP FRONT. Took wargaming to a new plane. Contender.

WORLD IN FLAMES. One day the rules will be finished.

The next round involves the ``final five'' -- Acquire, Metric Mile, Modern Art, RAF and Up Front. Any shortcomings at this point should be considered seriously pedantic, but here goes.

Sid Sackson's Acquire has survived almost thirty years, and was recently re-issued in Europe in a plush format. It was also paid homage last year by Franckh's Big Boss. Although business games are currently out of fashion, Acquire remains a perennial favourite. The knock against Metric Mile would focus on presentation, but the game does look workmanlike. Terry Goodchild should commission veteran sportsgamer Jeff Packe to produce a limited edition resplendent with hand painted athletes, and a synthetic track. Modern Art receives the ultimate accolade as Reiner Knizia's best work. Frankly, we could run an assessment like this using just his designs. I know the inclusion of RAF will raise eyebrows, but in a difficult competitive category this solitaire recreation of the Battle of Britain can be played after a cursory run through of the rulebook, which, in the finest tradition of West End Games, is a masterpiece. However, if you press me, the ``holding boxes'' for the German planes can cause confusion. Up Front was the first wargame from an international publisher to eliminate the board, and is readily digestible once the rules are absorbed. It is possible though, that many have been defeated by the ``bitty'' rule book.

So who wins? It's an illustrious list, and selecting just 25 games was hard enough, but this week's selection is Modern Art. I look forward to the venomous correspondence.

Mike Clifford

SWD: For me, personal taste rules out all the wargames and most of the sports games. I accept that Metric Mile is an excellent game, but the presentation of all the Lambourne stuff that I have seen is tatty. And tatty in a way that is difficult to forgive in these days of DTP packages. For a 100% improvement in the appearance of his games Terry doesn't need to bring in an outside artist, he just needs (1) to learn how to position the card in the photocopier so that things come out straight and (2) to throw out the John Bull printing outfit that he got for his tenth birthday and is seemingly still using. I am surprised to see Election on the list. It is an excellent concept and has some clever ideas, but there is a simple strategy that wipes out half the game system. Ave Caesar also seems a strange choice. I haven't played it, but from what I understand it is Ausgebremst without the skill. My top three? 18xx, followed by Die Macher and Modern Art.

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Stuart Dagger