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Essen 2012 Releases and the BGG Top 100

Jesse Dean
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The Essen 2011 Crop: One Year Later
Last year about this time I wrote an article where I looked over the games released at Essen 2011 and predicted where they would end up in the BGG Top 100. Now we have a new crop of games, and have had time to see where previous ones have settled.


Last year, I decided that the following games had a strong chance of making the BGG Top 100:
Eclipse
Mage Knight: The Board Game
Ora et Labora

All three of them are now in the BGG Top 20, having successfully maintained their momentum and finding a pretty wide fan base. Eclipse and Mage Knight: The Board Game were even successful enough to make the BGG Top 10.

I thought that Dungeon Petz, thanks to its designer and the game’s structure was likely to make the BGG Top 100. It has not quite made it, as it currently stands at #117, but at this point I think it is simply a matter of time. It may not stay in the Top 100, but getting there seems to be a pretty sure deal.

Three games I indicated would make Top 100 or not depending on their distribution:
Trajan
Vanuatu
MIL (1049)

Trajan made BGG Top 100 even before it got distribution in the US, but I am sure that the US distribution did help to propel it to its current position of #55. Neither Vanuatu nor MIL (1049) got an especially wide US distribution. Based on their current ratings, it is possible, though unlikely, that a wider distribution would have helped Vanuatu get into the Top 100. It is no longer possible that MIL (1049) will achieve this position.

The last three games were ones that I thought were “possible” based on initially strong ratings if they were able to maintain this momentum and get effective distribution:
Hawaii
Quebec
Colonial: Europe’s Empires Overseas

None of these games were able to maintain their momentum, though Hawaii was “trashed” by some reviewers.


Looking over the BGG Top 100, the only other 2011 games that are present are ones that were released prior to Essen 2011: The Castles of Burgundy, Summoner Wars: Master Set, A Game of Thrones (Second Edition), The Lord of the Rings Card Game, and A Few Acres of Snow. So I think I did a pretty good job of picking out the games that were likely (or somewhat likely) in making the BGG Top 100 based both on quantitative and qualitative factors.

The Essen 2012 Crop

Last year I established a criterion for determining which Essen releases have a shot of making the Top 100. Based on its success last year, I am still satisfied with it so I will be using it again:


Generally, for a game to be able to make it into the BGG Top 100 it has to get pretty strong initial ratings. An initial neutral to negative response from early adopters can slow down the game’s momentum, and barring something extraordinary, prevent it from ultimately getting the quantity and quality of ratings it needs to make the Top 100 as people will get scared away from a game that rates poorly. This is particularly true since initial ratings tend to be from early adopters who are more likely to rate a game well. Once it hits a wider audience, average rating almost always goes down, meaning that the earliest ratings frequently indicate the highest average rating this game will ever get. So for the purpose of this blog, I am going to look at those games that I consider being in the running for the Top 100 and am outright rejecting games that have below a 7.80 average rating. This average rating is higher than that of many games that currently are in the BGG Top 100, but as noted above, it is reasonable to expect these ratings to decline over time.


In addition to high average ratings over time, a game needs to be able to get a sufficient quantity of ratings in order to reach the Top 100. A game with a low number of ratings but a really high average rating, like the War of the Ring Collector’s Edition, can get there, but generally you need to have thousands of ratings in order to break past the dummy ratings and have a shot at getting into the Top 100. This means that games with a wide distribution, particularly with the American audiences that are the most common on BGG, have a definite advantage in getting into the Top 100. This wide distribution comes with a cost though, as a game with one is also more likely to encounter people who do not like it, bringing the average rating down.


2012’s Essen crop is significantly weaker (from a rating perspective) then 2011’s. I am not expecting any great shake-ups in the rankings or any new games (much less two new games) in the BGG Top 10. That being said, I think there are a few contenders for games that will make the Top 100.


Very Likely
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar (8.25 average; 204 ratings)
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar is the only Essen game that I feel is almost certainly going to make the BGG Top 100, and is definitely the only one that I think has a shot of making the Top 25. Part of this is of course just due to its average rating. 8.25, while not an exceptional start, is still a strong indicator that it will do well. CGE is a well-regarded company, and even though Tzolk’in was not designed by Vlaada Chvátil, its attachment to CGE and the savvy marketing campaign that they have conducted has definitely caught people’s attention. Having played Tzolk’in I can say that its combination of a unique timing structure with a fairly typical resource combination back-end is one that will probably do very well. It is interesting and innovative enough to get people excited, but is grounded enough in familiar territory that it is still fairly comfortable.

Likely
Ginkgopolis (7.85 average; 85 ratings)
Ginkgopolis designer, Xavier Georges, and publisher, Pearl Games, have one game that has had significant results in the BGG rankings: Troyes, and another one that has done well, but has not quite made the BGG Top 100: Carson City, which is ranked 155. In addition to continuing popular enthusiasm for Troyes, Ginkgopolis also has a fairly unique hook: players are collectively laying tiles to build a city both outwards and upwards, adding a three-dimensional spatial element. There is still lingering excitement for Pearl Games and there is a lot of talk about how “fresh” and “different” it is. That is usually a good sign.


Myrmes (7.94 average; 112 ratings)
Myrmes and Suburbia (below) both look like they have an opportunity to take the “middle-weight hit” title. Myrmes biggest advantage appears to be how thematically well-integrated it is. There are not a lot of anthill management board games out there, and the main one I am familiar with (Antics) handles the anthill problem much differently. If anything is going to sink it, it will be the games replayability. I have already heard rumblings that the game has a low amount of interplay variability, but I admit this may end up being irrelevant. It matters a lot to me, if it is true, but will not necessarily matter to other people.


Suburbia (7.97 average; 194 ratings)
Suburbia has a number of things going for it. It has an absolutely great looking graphic design and the fact that it has a city building theme which, while popular, has not yet seen an extremely successful implementation yet. A 7.97 rating is also pretty solid, particularly since it has a significant (for an Essen release) amount of ratings. It has also been sitting pretty high on the “Hotness” rating, indicating that it has maintained some level of momentum post-Essen. It has caught people’s attention, and this is likely to create a bit of a snowball effect that could make or break its overall chances in a very short period of time. Since I have played Suburbia, and quite liked it particularly for a medium weight game, I think it is more likely to fall on the “make it” side of the equation. The only question is whether it will be able to maintain its current high average rating, or if it will see a steeper decline that is more typical of Essen releases.

Distribution Dependent
Keyflower (8.15 average; 71 ratings)
Keyflower has a high initial average rating, but I consider it a bit of a “soft” rating. 71 ratings is usually less strong of an indicator then 200, which is usually at about the point where you can get an idea whether a game really has a shot at hitting the Top 100 or not. Still, an 8.15 average rating is a good start, and if it can maintain this level, while getting put in front of enough gamers, it will end up making it all the way. If anything ends up holding it back, it will be the fact that it does not really bring all that much that is “new and different.” Most recent games that have been successful have had some sort of hook to catch people’s attention, and I suspect that Keyflower’s lack of such a hook might prevent it from getting an exceptional ranking.


Terra Mystica (8.18 average; 117 ratings)
Terra Mystica has come out of Essen with a lot of buzz, getting 2nd on the Fairplay poll and also doing well on the Geekbuzz. Uwe Rosenberg is also listed as contributing to the design, and while not all his games are hits, he has enough winners, that it can be counted as a positive factor in how likely it is that a game will do well. Beyond that there are no strong “indicators” it is going to be a big success. Neither of its designers have published anything that has previously made the BGG Top 100 (though I enjoyed both Kaivai and the Scepter of Zavandor) and the publisher is not an established name. I personally, am pretty excited by this one though, and I have strong hopes that the initial reaction to the game at Essen will be sufficient to indicate that the game is both of high quality and will be able to climb into the Top 100 once it gets more publishing partners.

Possible
Al Rashid (8.06 average; 58 ratings)
Al Rashid falls into the same category as Keyflower in regards to the overall reliability of its ratings. An 8.06 is an excellent start, but with only 58 initial ratings, it is still quite possible that it will see a high rate of degradation as time goes on. Its strongest secondary indicator is its rank on the geekbuzz, where it got 6th place with a total of 105 ratings. Beyond this, there are no strong indicators about whether it will be successful in the rankings or not. Neither the designer nor the publisher is established; this is the first game the publisher has produced and none of the designer’s previous credits are hits. This is not to say the game won’t do well, it is just it has a much greater degree of uncertainty because of this.

Antike Duellum (7.80; 42 ratings)
Antike Duellum is at the very low end of the rating range where I consider Top 100 to be reasonable, and with only 42 ratings that is a poor sign, as it is far, far more common for a game to degrade in average rating over time then increase. On the plus side, the designer, Mac Gerdts, has two Top 100 games to his name (Navegador and Imperial), and this game is based off a previous design of his, though that one does not hold nearly the ranking of his two big games.

Archipelago (7.80; 120 ratings)
Archipelago’s designer, Christophe Boelinger, has two games that have achieved significant traction: Earth Reborn and Dungeon Twister. Earth Reborn is in the BGG Top 50, and has achieved quite a bit of critical fame, but did not do well enough financially to get an expansion. Dungeon Twister has a sub-7.0 rating and is sitting in the 300s. Entertainingly enough, it has a bunch of expansions. Archipelago sounds interesting, with the potential for everyone losing, and secret victory point conditions and end game triggers, but these points of interest are also points of risk. They are enough that it is easy to turn people off with them, and have been frequently commented as being among the game’s flaws. They have not been quite enough to turn me off, I am still quite interested in the game and am uncertain if they are true flaws are simply a matter of inexperienced play, but it is still something that could impact Archipelago’s chances in the rankings.

Snowdonia (7.80 average; 116 ratings)
Snowdonia may suffer the same problem as Keyflower, while having a lower average rating: there is not nearly enough to clearly differentiate it from the other worker placement games out there beyond its rather unique theme. The most common negative early comments reflect this, and it does not appear to have enough top end enthusiasm (9 and 10 ratings) to indicate that it is likely to maintain the level of momentum required to get to the Top 100. On the plus side, it does seem to effectively tie the mechanics to the theme, which is usually a good indicator that a game could be successful in the rankings, and with Lookout Games as a publisher there is a strong chance it might end up with a US distribution deal.

CO2 (7.70 average; 111 ratings)
CO2 is noteworthy simply because of how divisive it is. While, 7.70 is well outside of the usual ratings range that I consider for this article, its standard deviation (2.21) is twice that of any other game on this list. Looking at the rating comments, it is not tough to see why. There is a bit of a war going on, through the ratings, by people who are offended by CO2’s theme and those who find it particularly refreshing. Based on how frequently CO2 appeared on the hotness, and the generally positive reaction from people who appear to have played the game at Essen, I think this game still has a shot of making it into the Top 100. It is simply a matter of whether most people end up rating the game based on its gameplay or for political reasons.

Conclusion
So that is the field of Essen 2012 games that I think have the biggest possibility of making the Top 100. The amount of games is a little bit lighter on the top end, as I think only Tzolk’in is guaranteed a spot, but the total that has at least some potential is higher, with 11 versus 10. It will be interesting to see which of the ones on the borderline end up breaking away from the rest and shooting towards the Top 100 and which ones just fade away.
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Wed Oct 31, 2012 12:16 am
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It Seems I Made My Best Game of 2011 List Too Soon (Part 2)

Jesse Dean
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There is always some risk that when making one’s end of year list so close to the end of that year that it will end up being inaccurate in some ways. Either you can find that some game you put on their isn’t as good as you thought it was (see: Warrior’s & Traders) or you will happen upon a game that is so exceptional that if you had played it prior to the end of the year it would have definitely made it to your list. This is what has happened to me with Cave Evil, by Emperors of Eternal Evil. It first came to my attention when I saw it on Michael Barnes’ end of year list behind Mage Knight and Eclipse. While I do not always agree with Mr. Barnes about when he is critical about a game his enthusiasm, particularly for meatier games, is enough for me to at least consider a game, and what he had to say about Cave Evil was sufficient to push me over the edge into purchasing it.

I am both happy and upset I did. I am happy because it is a fun and unique game, and I think it is absolutely worth owning for anyone who likes tactical combat games. Before I was a board gamer I played competitive collectible miniature games and Cave Evil definitely scratched the same sort of itch, but rather than the building your squad before the game starts you have a unique and competitive resource system that lets you build your squad during the game, which adds for a fun bit of dynamism that is not present in my favorite CMGs. The fact that they are able to alter the structure of the board during the game itself adds to this. While mastering the environment of a new map was always fun in Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures the ability to create and destroy your own passages is equally, if not more fun.

On the downside, the game does feature player elimination, which can be awkward at times and may eventually kill its ability to be played with most of my group due to their distaste for this particular mechanic. I empathize with this particular distaste, but I think the game is good enough to overcome such an issue, though if they continue to disagree with me it will not matter because I will not be able to play.
Cave Evil is probably the most Ameritrash (AT) game that I have played in a while and I have actually had some of my local opponents express surprise at my interest in this game, despite the fact that it fits well with the sorts of games that originally attracted my attention to the hobby: Dungeons & Dragons, Magic, and Collectible Miniatures Games. When I first got into board gaming I largely focused on eurogames, with my enjoyment of Arkham Horror being the only real break from that general trend, probably due to a fatigue and general dissatisfaction with the sort of AT games I had played up until that point. So I see playing games like Cave Evil and Mage Knight less as a divergent change rather than a return to my roots. Of course the question is why is this happening?

One possibility is that I am just getting over my burn out in that style of games, and thus am much more willing to look at them then I once was and this has resulted in me being more open to play a game like Cave Evil then I was at previous points. Of course this willingness has not extended to an interest in games like Quarriors or Kings of Tokyo; I still retain my lack of interest in lighter games of this style.

It could also be that my natural exploration of boardgaming in general has led me back to AT games as the last big area that requires major definition of my interests. I already have a good idea of what I like in war games and euro games, what works and does not in AT board games is a bit more vague. Since a major part of my enjoyment of board games is about deep exploration, both of individual games as well as the genre in general this uncertainty and lack of definition is alluring.

Of course it is also possible that rather than it simply being about a change in my perceptions of AT releases or my desire for exploration, it could simply be about a change in the sort of designs that have been released. Mage Knight and Eclipse are both hybrid designs more than anything else and Cave Evil seems to be deeper and meatier then a lot of AT designs released in the last few years while at the same time effectively avoiding some of the pitfalls that are common in games that are highly interactive.

As it stands, I expect to continue paying attention to meatier games of all styles in the future and I expect to be paying special attention to AT designs in order to continue to investigate whether it is my preferences that are shifting, if the style of designs is changing, or if it is some combination of both.

If you have not seen it already my review of Cave Evil is here: A Deeply Rewarding Experience

So are there any deeper and meatier AT board games released over the last few years that you have particularly enjoyed? Anything I missed that I should check out?
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Thu Feb 16, 2012 8:52 pm
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Ora et Labora Review

Jesse Dean
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2007 was a pretty good year for games. My two favorite games, Agricola and Race For the Galaxy, were released that year and while I find a lot of the games released in 2007 to be a little bit less exciting, the presence of this duo is enough to make it up for me. Race For The Galaxy was the first of these I encountered (I hated it for the first seven plays), but my first eight months of gaming after I encountered them were essentially consumed by almost continual plays of these two games. To this day they remain my most-played games, and while I have been interested in later releases, none of them have quite lived up to the bar that these two games have set, though numerous releases have gotten close.

As a result of these initial releases I have paid special attention to later releases by both Tom Lehman and Uwe Rosenberg. Among Uwe Rosenberg’s later release Le Havre stood out to me in particular, and over the years following its release I ended up playing it 40 times; a reasonable number but one that does not quite compare to the number of times I have played Agricola. For many gamers Le Havre was considered to be Rosenberg’s superior design and while I enjoyed it for quite a while, it never quite resonated with me the way Agricola did. Coke and steel’s chokehold over scoring bothered me a bit and typically reminded me of a common complaint about Agricola; where Le Havre in theory had a more open form of scoring, in practice it did not, the reverse was true for Agricola. This made the game rather repetitive after a while, even with the special buildings, which only occassionally had a big impact on the game. In many games these special buildings were merely there and could safely be ignored, as could a large number of the regular buildings, which could be used once or twice, but were mainly built for the points they offered. The way resources accumulated at the end of the game also seemed troublesome, and frequently made me wonder why I was going through the effort of building stacks of them if they would only ever be selected every couple of games. The release of Farmers of the Moor only cemented my opinion of Agricola being the superior of the two designs, as the additional level of complexity and decision making provided by this expansion pushed the game even farther into my good graces. This is not to say I think that Le Havre is a bad game, I still am willing to play it and quite enjoy it, just that I increasingly think that it does compare well with Agricola and my other favorites.

Uwe’s more recent releases, At the Gates of Loyang and Merkator, are even less interesting and I hoped that Rosenberg would return to the design style that initially attracted me to his games, so that I had a reason to look forward to one of his releases again. Ora et Labora’s description as Le Havre on steroids initially attracted it to me, though I was only cautiously optimistic due to Loyang and Merkator. Now that I was able to play it a bit at BGG.Con (5 plays as of this writing) I can say with little reservation that it is a worthy heir to Uwe’s previous titles and may be his best one yet. I've written a review of it if you want to see more extensively why I think this is the case.

Also, it has come to my attention that Kelly, one of the locals has a web site where she, with occasional guest postings from her friend Scott and her husband Chad, writes reviews of board and iOS games. It is one of the better designed board game sites I've seen and I encourage you to check it out: http://www.boardofplaying.com
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Mon Nov 28, 2011 11:43 am
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Initial Impressions of Colonial: Europe's Empires Overseas

Jesse Dean
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I have been excited about Colonial for quite a while. I first noticed the game when looking through the Essen 2011 Canonical list, and I checked it out mostly because it already had a rulebook available and it was in the right time frame for my “Gamer’s Games of Essen 2011” geeklist. The rules, though a bit unclear in certain areas, immediately won me over with their elegance. They had so many great answers for the tough question of how to make a game of this scope and breadth that I immediately decided I needed to find a way to get a copy.

On Tuesday, my copy of the game arrived. I waited to open the box and punch out the components until after I finished my review of Urban Sprawl as I did not want to get distracted. Opening the box I was pretty impressed. While the printing quality of the components were about average, the board is as beautiful in person as it is in picture form and doesn’t get too much in the way of being able to identify and decipher the game state. Since then I’ve played the game twice, both times with 5 players, and so far I am happy with the purchase. As is usual, I would like to get in some more plays before I write my review, but so far I think this is my favorite game of 2011. There are several games that have a potential to usurp that position, but they are going to have to work hard to do it.

Right now, Colonial is a pretty expensive game. In the US, at least, it seems that the cheapest you can get it for is $100. However, considering the generally positive initial reactions the game is getting and the small size of the initial print run there is a reasonable chance that you can get about that much money back if you end up deciding it is not a good game for you. Still, there are some things that are useful to know before you pick this one up.

Colonial is a very interactive game. Most choices you make are going to have an impact one or more players, and most of the role cards are worded in such a way that you can apply the benefit to yourself or another player. Additionally, this game is explicitly a negotiation game, with the ability to transfer treasuries (the primary currency of the game) between players. Thus you can sell access to your mutually beneficial role choices to offer items that will not explicitly favor you to someone else for some money, or even to threaten to go to war with someone unless they offer you protection money. That being said, there is enough structure to the game that you can’t casually stop someone from winning. Between the secret action selection and what the actions do, it can require deliberate interference from multiple players or negligence on your opposing player’s part to actually bring someone down. This is just about the right level of interaction for me in this type of game, but I can very easily see how this might be outside of someone else’s comfort level.

Colonial is a heavy game. It is not a very heavy game, like an 18XX game or Dominant Species, but it can be subject to analysis paralysis and, if you are playing with a slow group, it can take a while. However, players only take one, of a set of five, action at a time, resulting in the pace being fairly brisk if you don’t have any huge bottlenecks. Both of my games were teaching games with four new players, and while they both lasted between 3 and 4 hours neither of them really dragged. Both had very little downtime, and I felt constantly engaged with what was going on around the board. The exception to this was during the role selection period, when people are forced to plan out four of their five actions for the round. While it did not take me that long because I’ve mostly internalized the game’s flow and strategy, it did take other people a bit longer to figure out when and how they wanted to go about performing their available actions. I expect this time will decreased as people get more familiar with the game, but it is a potential hang-up.

Colonial’s rules are in a small bit of flux right now. There has been several revisions and clarifications to the war rules, and each of my two games were played with slightly different rules for war, neither of which are the current, final rules. This can make certain people understandably nervous, particularly considering the price of the game. It does not bother me, mostly because the underlying structure of the game is so solid that I think some slightly unclear rules for one aspect of the game are a small price to pay for what is overall an excellent design.

The game uses dice. If you are someone who completely dislikes randomness or chance then you probably want to avoid this game. That being said, while the dice rolling is important it seems unlikely that any given die roll, by itself, will be sufficient to win or lose the game for you. I’ve seen people who have failed multiple exploration rolls, or lose a few wars, come back to do very well in the game, and it seems that due to the game’s interactiveness players who have fallen far behind thanks to these situations also have a good chance to get some of the secondary benefits provided by other player’s role sections. This may prove to be less of the case with experienced players, but it seems like players are strongly incentivized to help players who are stuck in weaker positions to pick themselves back up again, meaning that it is unusual that you will be able to consider somebody completely out of the game.

Colonial works best with a larger group size. So far both of my games have been with five and that seems to be a very good number for the game. With fewer players the game will be even less tight and there will be fewer opportunities to butt heads, meaning that there will be fewer situations where going to war makes sense and more victory points that can be gained simply by exploring. I will probably try this one out with four, but I have no intention to ever play the game with 3. I can’t see it being a game I would enjoy with that number.

I expect I will want to play this one at least 3 or 4 more times before I review it, but right now I am satisfied with the purchase and expect it will ultimately get an 8 or 9 for its rating. I have very much enjoyed my plays so far and considering its universally positive response from people I have taught the game to so far, I expect that this one will end up getting a large amount of play in both of my gaming groups. It’s a very good game and, if none of the items I mentioned turns you off, I would definitely recommend checking it out.
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Mon Nov 7, 2011 6:55 pm
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Essen 2011 and the BGG Top 100

Jesse Dean
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Every year after Essen I feel a bit of excitement as I see what games are making their way up the BGG rankings. It is simply fun rooting for my own personal favorites to make their way up the BGG rankings, potentially landing in the Top 100, while at the same time hoping that other games, which I view less favorably, fail to make it as far. Ultimately, it does not matter, since there are plenty of games both inside and outside of the Top 100 that I view as very good games, but the perceived competition itself is enjoyable.

Generally, for a game to be able to make it into the BGG Top 100 it has to get pretty strong initial ratings. An initial neutral to negative response from early adopters can slow down the game’s momentum, and barring something extraordinary, prevent it from ultimately getting the quantity and quality of ratings it needs to make the Top 100 as people will get scared away from a game that rates poorly. This is particularly true since initial ratings tend to be from early adopters who are more likely to rate a game well. Once it hits a wider audience, average rating almost always goes down, meaning that the earliest ratings frequently indicate the highest average rating this game will ever get. So for the purpose of this blog, I am going to look at those games that I consider being in the running for the Top 100 and am outright rejecting games that have below a 7.80 average rating. This average rating is higher than that of many games that currently are in the BGG Top 100, but as noted above, it is reasonable to expect these ratings to decline over time.

In addition to high average ratings over time, a game needs to be able to get a sufficient quantity of ratings in order to reach the Top 100. A game with a low number of ratings but a really high average rating, like the War of the Ring Collector’s Edition, can get there, but generally you need to have thousands of ratings in order to break past the dummy ratings and have a shot at getting into the Top 100. This means that games with a wide distribution, particularly with the American audiences that are the most common on BGG, have a definite advantage in getting into the Top 100. This wide distribution comes with a cost though, as a game with one is also more likely to encounter people who do not like it, bringing the average rating down.

So of the games released at Essen 2011, I think 10 have some shot at making the Top 100 based on their average rating. Some of these are released by smaller board game companies and might not make it if they never get picked up for a wider distribution, or if people outside of the core audience dislike it, but there is at least a chance they will.

Very Likely
Eclipse – 8.45 (161 ratings)
If any game can be considered the true hit of Essen 2011, this one can. It sold very well and has received fantastic ratings, with some even going so far as to say it is the best board game that has been released in years. It is a relatively fast space epic game, which is something that players have been actively wanting for years. The fact that Asmodee is going to be publishing it in the United States meaning that it is going to get into the hands of a lot of people, virtually assuring that a number of excited gamers will get their hands on it. Eclipse is virtually assured a spot in the Top 100 and may very well make the Top 25 if it can keep its current momentum.

Mage Knight Board Game 8.26 (74 ratings)
The Mage Knight Board Game will likely do well for the same reasons as Eclipse, but it has a couple of items that will potentially slow it down. The first is that it appears to be a bit more complicated than Eclipse, meaning that there is a good shot that people will get turned off by an initial negative reaction to that complexity. The second is that, despite being associated with the Mage Knight brand, and thus more likely to be purchased by fans of the old Mage Knight Collectible Miniatures Game (CMG), it also has violated some elements of the game’s mythos, and thus could get poor ratings from Mage Knight CMG fans who are upset about that. Beyond those two items, it looks like it has a strong shot at the Top 100. With Wizkids as the publisher, it will almost certainly be in every board game shop in America. It appears to be an adventure game that is specifically tailored for the sort of gamers that frequent BGG, with a strong strategic backbone and one of the hottest designers around. I am even going to get it, despite not being a big fan of fantasy adventure games genre.

Ora et Labora – 8.18 (67 ratings)
While his last two games have not done well in the rankings, Ora et Labora has the makings of another strong showing from Uwe Rosenberg. It is the sort of heavy euro resource conversion game that, while not as popular as they once were, are like catnip to the BGG crowd. Uwe’s previous two designs: Agricola and Le Havre are both in the Top 10 on BGG, and the simple fact that he has made another game in their style might be enough to get this game in the Top 100. It also has the strong initial ratings it needs to be able to make it for the long haul. Third, Z-Man Games is distributing it which means it has the reach needed to get sufficient ratings to make the Top 100. The only real downsides are that it looks like it has even more to think about then Le Havre, so its complexity might be outside of the comfort zone of the average BGGer, and the combination of low interaction with no randomness, so it might have a low degree of interplay variability. I don’t think that either of these items will prevent it from making the Top 100 and, for me personally, the question is not whether Ora et Labora will make the Top 100. The question is whether it will be the third Uwe Rosenberg game to make the Top 25. I think the answer is probably not, but it will be interesting to see!

Likely
Dungeon Petz – 7.85 (138 ratings)
Dungeon Petz is the second game on this list from designer Vlaada Chavatil, and another one that I think is likely to make it into the Top 100. Like Ora et Labora it is being distributed by Z-Man Games, meaning that it should be pretty widely available. Additionally, Dungeon Petz is clearly designed with “gamers” in mind, and Vlaada Chavatil has proven very effective in designing games that appeal to BGG raters; since 2006 every single game he has made that has been designed for “gamers” has made the Top 100. The big thing holding this one back is the relatively low initial ratings for the game. While a 7.85 average rating is by no means low, it does not leave a lot of room for rating degradation over time. How well Dungeon Petz does will depend a lot on the overall level of degradation. If it can remain fairly low then this one will easily make the Top 100, and perhaps even the Top 50. I suspect it will keep constant enough to be able to make it.



Depends on Distribution
Trajan – 7.93 (149 ratings)
Trajan is by another game by one of BGG’s established designers: Stefan Feld. While Stefan Feld hasn’t been quite as successful in getting top ranked games as Vlaada Chavatil or Uwe Rosenberg, he is respected, and his name on the box is frequently enough for people to check it out. The initial rating of 7.93 also is strong, and indicates that it might have enough appeal to go far in the rankings. The main thing that could potentially hold it back is the lack of US distribution. Unless it gets this, it might not get the quantity of ratings that it needs to make the Top 100. Assuming it does make it to the US, I have every expectation of it making it, however.

Vanuatu – 7.90 (71 ratings)
Vanuatu is another game whose fate in the rankings I expect will largely hang on the results of getting a distribution deal in the United States. However, Vanuatu’s approachable theme, largely positive initial reactions, and the general style of the game mean that I think this is pretty likely. While it does not have the name recognition that comes with having an established designer like Stefan Feld’s on the box, a copy did make it to BGG.Con, meaning it has a good shot of building the buzz that has been enough to launch games, such as Hansa Teutonica in 2009, into the US in the past.

MIL (1049) - 7.91 (68 ratings)
MIL (1049) is another game that has gotten good initial buzz from Essen attendees that needs US distribution to make the Top 100. The game itself looks like it has the correct combination of the familiar and the innovative to appeal to BGG gamers, and a play time that allows it to be played even in shorter game nights. What could potentially hold it back, in addition to distribution, are the relative complexity of the rules; reports from Essen, while largely possible, did indicate some difficulty with understanding how the game worked. Despite this, I think the game has a pretty good shot of doing well in the rankings if a US publisher picks it up. However, of these three, I think that it has the lowest odds of getting US distribution.

Possible
Hawaii – 7.80 (65 ratings)
Unlike the previous category of games, Hawaii has a distribution deal in the US, however while I think it is possible that Hawaii will make the Top 100, I am a bit less certain about it. The biggest thing holding it back is its initial average rating. While 7.80 is not a bad rating, it might not be sufficient for it to make it to the Top 100 if it decays to any extent as it gains ratings. Beyond that, I don’t have any real basis for judging its fate. Its rules are currently unavailable, so I am uncertain of how appealing Hawaii is on the whole, and most of the references I have seen have mentioned its similarities to Vikings, a solid game but not one that set the BGG rankings on fire.

Quebec – 7.82 (59 ratings)
My expectations for Quebec are similar to those with Hawaii. Its initial rating is decent, but not strong enough that it can take any serious rating decay and still make it to the Top 100. It has a distribution deal with Asmodee, which it means it should be seen by enough gamers to allow it to make the Top 100. It is simply a matter of seeing how much people like it once it gets into their hands.

Colonial: Europe’s Empires Overseas – 8.15 (52 ratings)
While I enjoy Colonial quite a bit, I think it is the game that is least likely to make it to the Top 100 of those on the list. It has a strong initial rating, but that rating is based on the smallest sample size of any game on this list and is thus pretty volatile. Additionally, based on my play, I am uncertain of how well it will do well in the overall market. It is best with 5 or 6 players and can be fairly long with that number, and games that are both long and require a large number of players to shine have not traditionally done very well in the BGG rankings. These items may be sufficient enough that it will not see the US distribution deal that is needed to allow this one to make it into the Top 100. Still, unlike a lot of Essen games, it is possible so it will be interesting to see how things develop from here.

So that is the field as I currently see it. Is there any Essen 2011 games that I am missing that you think will/could make the Top 100?
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Fri Nov 4, 2011 6:38 pm
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Reducing Contract Card Chaos In Urban Sprawl

Jesse Dean
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In my review of Urban Sprawl, I noted that one of the items that I found to be most problematic, the high impact Metropolis deck cards, is one of the items that are most easily corrected for simply by not including the contract cards that are most likely to cause massive swings in victory points. The cards I find most problematic are:

University (4 permits, Education 5, 2 VP payout, Each player gains 4 VP for each RES and CIV they own)
Marina (4 permits, Ignore zoning restrictions, For each 1-lot RES they control, players must pay you $4 or 4 VP)
Port (4 permits, Transportation 7, 4 VP payout, Each player gains 4 VP and $4 for each IND they control)
Temple (2 permits), 1 VP payout, For each RES they control, players must pay you $4 or 4 VP)

The simplest solution to dealing with these cards is to simply not include them in the game. This is easily resolved by simply making it so the Metropolis deck has its normal array of 15 cards on top, a random 7 below that, and then 11 more after that. Doing it this way has the added bonus of making it so you are more likely to see any given card and thus there will be a somewhat lower level of variance in the game. On the downside you are removing three VP payout cards from the game, decreasing the value of the 4 VP, 1 VP, and 2 VP rows even further.

An equally viable alternative, particularly if you have a group that is open to house rules, is to simply halve the effects of these cards. This still makes them valuable, but doesn’t make them as game warping as they are now. $2 per building (for the Marina and Temple) is much easier to deal with and plan around then $4 is and it makes it so it is a much more reasonable choice to not take them and either not build on your turn or discard some permit cards to have an additional financial cushion. The University and Port are still strong, maybe a little bit too strong, but aren’t game winners by themselves. This also has the benefit of not reducing the number of VP payout cards in the deck, as noted above, keeping the original distribution intact.

If your biggest problem is the swinginess of the Metropolis deck cards, then one of these two solutions will probably resolve the problem for you. There are a few other buildings (The Historical Monument and the Nuclear Plant, for example) that can have very big payouts but they require either very specific circumstances or lots of forward planning to carry out, and thus are much less problematic. Of course, removing these cards does not resolve the other problematic bits of chaos from the game, but it does lessen it somewhat, which may be enough for some.
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Wed Nov 2, 2011 3:25 pm
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Quick Update

Jesse Dean
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In case you did not see, it I wrote a review for Urban Sprawl: Urban Chaos. What is particularly interesting about this game is that even though I ultimately decided it is not a design I can appreciate, it has not diminished my enthusiasm for future Chad Jensen designs at all. There were enough great ideas in Urban Sprawl that I genuinely liked that I expect I will be an early adopter of his next eurogame at well, particularly since he said he would try to keep the chaos level of the design to a manageable level.

The next game I will be looking at is Colonial: Europe's Empires Overseas. I just got my copy today, and I expect that I will be playing it at least once tomorrow, and probably some more this weekend. Expect a review as soon as I think I have figured out the game, and various blog posts as I make my journey. In the meantime, you can check out two strategy articles I wrote based on reading the rules. It will be entertaining to see how right or wrong I was!

This past weekend I attended my favorite Florida-based board game convention: Mike's Mini Meet X. It was quite a bit of fun, and I got to play a nice mix of old and new favorites. I’ve also been made aware of a brand new convention that will be hitting Orlando starting in July. It looks to potentially be a pretty phenomenal one and I cannot wait to check it out and see if I have a new favorite. The shorter drive time will certainly be nice.

More on all of these subjects soon!
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Wed Nov 2, 2011 2:05 am
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Strategic Musings on and Statistical Analysis of Urban Sprawl

Jesse Dean
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Urban Sprawls three currencies: action points, money, and building permits. The planning deck is the major source of two of these currencies, with each of the deck’s 36 different building permit cards displaying both a money payout symbol and a number of permits on it. Money is important for determining where you can build, but without the right number of permits, you won’t be able to build at all, which is usually a lot more inconvenient then not being able to build in an optimal space. Permit cards can also be transformed into money, if you have one at the beginning of the round, though the reverse is not true. Only action points (Aps) can be used to acquire permits. The other item that action points are used to acquire is contract cards. It is very easy in Urban Sprawl to get distracted by the flashy power of the contract cards but I think this is largely a mistake. Building permits are just as important as contract cards, if not more so, and it makes sense to be careful in both when you acquire them and how you spend them.



So what makes permits so valuable? It is mostly a matter of the scarcity of the higher value permits, and the way the requirements for the bigger ones balloon as the game continues. As you can see from the table above, the combined quantities of size 3 and size 4 permit cards are equal to that of either of the size 1 and 2 quantities. When you add in the Urban Renewal cards, these larger cards become rather scarce, and once you start reaching the City and Metropolis phases (when average permit size goes from 1.56 to 2.64 to 2.83), very important. Playing in a fast and loose way, where you try to use available building permits to build an available contract every turn may require less thought but it will also create even more of the sort of chaos I talked about in my Initial Impressions post, as you become truly reliant on what cards are coming out in order to be able to do anything.



In addition to being restricted by permit size, contract cards can only use permit cards that specifically allow them. This is rarely a problem for the smaller contracts, as they are so plentiful that you can just reach over and grab whichever card takes your fancy. Once you get into the larger permits, however, things become a bit more difficult. All of the level 3 and 4 permit cards can be used with commercial buildings. This makes sense, because there are far more commercial buildings than any other type. All but one of the level 3 and 4 permit cards also allow industrial buildings. This also makes sense because, on average, industrial buildings require more permits than the others. Residential and civic are less permit-intensive and thus have less of a requirement for large contracts. Where this becomes problematic, however, is in getting out those rare, large residential and civic buildings. It might even be worthwhile to hang on to contracts that allow them because merely by holding them you are reducing the capability of other players to build these larger buildings. With this restriction they are less likely to grab them for themselves, meaning you are more likely to get these big, valuable, contracts for a reduced cost. Also, once the Metropolis era arrives with its powerful late-game contracts, being able to build them before anyone else can be a powerful.



In a particular game it is extremely likely that you won’t see more than 75% of the town and city decks, and you will never see more than 50% of the metropolis deck. As a result of this you can never expect to see a particular card. However, the four zones each have a fairly tight mechanical focus making it so that you have a good idea of the sort of ability you will be taking advantage of when you get a building permit. Civic contracts tend to focus on gaining victory points and tend to supply Education, Public Service, and Tourism vocations. Commercial contracts tend to focus on producing and claiming other people’s money, and tend to supply Finance, Media, Tourism, and Transportation vocations. Industrial contracts tend to focus on manipulation of planning cards, and tend to supply Energy, Factory, and Transportation vocations. Residential contracts tend to focus on manipulation of wealth and victory point markers and control of buildings and tend to not deal with vocation markers. With this in mind some planning and strategy is possible, even if it is limited somewhat by when and how the contracts come out.

The eight vocations are not evenly distributed across the contract cards. Some vocations, such as Public Service, appear quite frequently across the contract cards while others, such as Media and Finance, are much, much rarer. In many ways taking a particular vocation-based contract is an exercise in risk vs. reward. Finance has some pretty amazing pay-out opportunities, but with only 4 appearances across the three decks, the likelihood of seeing it again is much lower than the more modestly rewarding Public Service, which has 12 appearances. “Dead” vocation markers are not a total loss, however, as they help you get Mayor, one of the six political offices.


*The Media vocation gets constant income from event cards in the City and Metropolis decks.


With the exception of Mayor and Contractor, ownership of a political office is about controlling the most valuable building of a particular type, with ties going to those who have the majority of buildings of that type, with further ties resolved by other political offices. The special abilities provided by these offices are powerful, and thus worth fighting for. The Union Boss, determined by the most valuable Industrial building, has the flashiest power thanks to its ability to provide 2 extra APs every round, but this typically only provides the ability to select more expensive cards then they normally would instead of getting extra cards. The District Attorney, determined by the most powerful Civic building, allows you to get more victory points from zone adjacency, which can provide a considerable bonus if it is used frequently and carefully. The Treasurer, determined by the most powerful Commercial building, allows forces other players to pay you $2 each at the beginning of your turn. This is helpful because of the fact that it provides you with a continual source of income regardless of which contract cards come out. The last one, and probably my favorite, is the Police Chief, who ensures that you get both victory points and money when getting a vocation pay-out, rather than just one. This one is obviously only useful if you are grabbing lots of vocations, but I admit I am a fan of vocations, so this does not bother me much. It also dovetails nicely into getting the Mayor, as vocation tile quantity during an election determines who gets this office. Because of the relative rarity of contracts of certain zones, it seems that it will be easier to hold on to the political offices associated with those zones. However, an errant urban renewal or the shifting dynamics of the wealth and prestige markers will prevent these offices from being too static. It will take some concerted effort to hold on to a particular office throughout the game, and if someone is willing to go through all of that to hold on to an office, they probably should get to keep it.

In addition to determining what special ability you receive, political offices also give you special bonuses via events. In the City deck there are eight events, two for each of the main political offices besides Mayor that provide some sort of extra special benefit for that political office. Four of these events cause a change in the distribution of money and/or VPs between players while the other four are slightly flashier and fun. All of the Metropolis-era events are focused on the Mayor, mostly giving the Mayor special bonuses or allowing him or her to direct the negative effects of a bad event in a limited way. This means that, while the Mayor is useful earlier in the game, it is most important to control the office during the Metropolis era as that is when the office’s biggest bonuses kick in. The others are important throughout the game, as they have good events during the City era, but also can provide big victory point bonuses at the end of the game.

Digging into the statistical guts of Urban Sprawl has actually improved my opinion of the game. I had previously been cautiously positive about it, but now that I understand it better I can move from there to fully positive. I am not quite sure where it is going to eventually settle into my rankings, but I plan to play it extensively in the near future to find out.
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Wed Oct 26, 2011 4:43 pm
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Initial Impressions of Urban Sprawl

Jesse Dean
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On Saturday I received my much anticipated copy of the new Chad Jensen game Urban Sprawl. I’ve been looking forward to this one for quite a while. I absolutely adored Mr. Jensen’s Dominant Species, which was released in September ’11, and pre-ordered Urban Sprawl fairly soon afterwards, hoping that it would be as great of a game as Dominant Species was. After two games on Sunday, I have to say I am fairly impressed. While it is definitely a very different game than Dominant Species, it shows some of the same general talent for making heavy, complicated euros, and I see a lot of potential for this one to be another winner. However, there are still some potential flaws that might sink it for me, and I think I need to play it more before I put together a full review.

The first thing you should be aware of is that Urban Sprawl is a very heavy game. I did not feel nearly the same level of brain burn after my first two back-to-back plays of Dominant Species as I did after my two plays of Urban Sprawl. I think there are three parts to this. The first is that each contract card has a one-shot largely unique special ability that frequently has a pretty big impact on play. At any given time there are anywhere from six to eight contracts available (at differing action costs), and processing these special abilities can be daunting when you are still trying to grasp how the various parts of the game work together. Even after you learn the dynamics of the cards are still going to be a significant amount of information to track. The second part is that you typically have to keep three to five intersecting majorities in mind with any given placement, with a slightly different location resulting in different majorities, and placement costs, to account for. The third is the low level of planning you can do on your turn. This is impacted by the number of players, but the available cards are likely to be quite different from the end of your turn to the beginning of your next one so it is likely that any choices you make will change after any individual players turn, and when your turn comes around again the game state will have changed enough that you will have to make the majority of decisions on your turn, adding both to the game length and the amount of cognitive load you are subject to.




Because of this reduced capability to plan between turns, and the additional play time that is added with a fourth player, I suspect that 3-player will be my favored configuration unless I am playing entirely with experienced players. I do like the additional dynamism that comes with the fourth player, but I am just not sure it will be worth it. That being said, with only one play at each configuration I haven’t made a firm decision about this. I plan on trying out both the three and four player games as much as possible in the near future to see if my perception of the additional dynamism vs. downtime trade off is a bit off and the four can be just as rewarding as three with less experienced players.

I wasn’t sure at first how I would feel about the Urban Renewal cards and the ability of the Contractor to knock down buildings when placing their own, but I found out in play that it didn’t really bother me that much. The Urban Renewal cards just end up being another powerful tool in the overall arsenal of powerful tools that you could potentially grab to take advantage of. The Contractor role has some potential for kingmaking, but I suspect that with more experienced players it will be less relevant, as people will be able to identify who is actually in the best/worst position and then take advantage of that situation. Additionally, choosing to get into a slightly worse victory point position might end up being a tactical choice as players seek to grab the Contractor card in order to be able to get free access to building destruction in order to set themselves up for taking control of a particular political office or row and to protect themselves from a similar sort of reaction from other players.

People who dislike chaos and luck are probably going to have issues with the game. Event cards exist in both the contract decks and the planning deck, and when they hit can have a reasonably large impact on the game. Also, only about ½ to 2/3 of the contract cards will emerge in any given game, meaning that you cannot expect any particular card to show up. In our last game we had a particularly ridiculous series of events where one event card showed up three times, due to forced reshuffles, in one end phase resulting in a payout of 9 vps and 9 dollars. We just sort of shrugged it off and resolved to shuffle better in future instances, but if that sort of situation could potentially bother you then you probably want to be careful about this game. The lack of specific contract cards showing up is probably going to be slightly less problematic to most people, but it can result in individuals being able to hold on to political offices more effectively then they would be able to otherwise. On the positive side, a different array of contract cards does increase the games interplay variability quite a bit; the first and second games did feel quite different, and suspect that was not just because we moved from three players to four.

Overall I am pretty fond of the game. I am not sure how much I like it quite yet, as I still need to work my head around the strategic implications of both certain player decisions and the card mix as well as whether the chaos of the game is significant enough to override player decision making, but I am looking forward to exploring it further in the next few weeks. Once I have come to conclusions about the previously mentioned items I will write a more comprehensive review. I generally write my reviews once I think I have a pretty strong grasp on the game, usually in the 3-5 play range, but I suspect this one might take a bit longer before I reach that point. Until then, I will probably post additional thoughts as I develop them.
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Mon Oct 24, 2011 6:50 pm
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Fall Buy Guide Revisited

Jesse Dean
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So early last month, just after I started this blog, I put together a list of the games that I was planning on acquiring from Essen 2011. Since then, I’ve read and reread a number of released rulebooks and I have revised my list a bit. I expect it will get revised a bit more between now and BGG.Con based on the sort of buzz that individual games receive, and that I will probably change my opinion on a number of borderline games based on how they play at BGG.Con. However, if I was going to Essen this week (and did not already have my current set of orders/pre-orders), then these are the games that I would be buying for sure or, at the very least, trying out.

Buy!
1. Vanuatu
My initial positive reaction to this one has only grown as I have more thoroughly explored the rulebook. I was briefly concerned that it was broken, but I was able to identify the flaws in my initial analysis and in the process developed a deep appreciation for the design. This is not a solitaire efficiency engine euro, but a high-contact blood sport where wrong moves will hurt and the person who is best able to force their opponents into no-win situations while at the same time properly exploiting the island’s steadily diminishing resources will be a winner. Who knew that living in the islands would be so brutal?

2. MIL (1049)
MIL (1049) is a game about relationships and how you are able to manage your resources to successfully forge relationships with other players. I initially dismissed this one as just another resource conversion game, albeit one with a nifty time element, but this focus on relationships, and the in-game implications of forging these relationships, has pushed this game from one I was indifferent to, to one that is my second most anticipated game of Essen 2011. Unfortunately, it is currently the only on my buy list that I don’t currently have a plan for acquiring, unless waiting to see if it shows up at an on-line retailer counts as a plan. Hopefully Funagain imports some!

3. Urban Sprawl
I pre-ordered this back in 2010, after being very impressed by the design of Dominant Species. The rulebook looks good, maybe not quite as good as Dominant Species, but it still looks like it will be a very good spatial game, focused on the life and growth of a city. Unfortunately, early reports have indicated that the game has a rather high degree of chaos, but I typically am skeptical of such complaints until I play the game for myself; people complained about the chaos of Dominant Species too, and I found it to be overall a minor issue.

4. Eclipse
I have greatly enjoyed Space Empires 4X so far, but its great length has limited the amount of times I have been able to get it on to the table. By adopting some more Eurogame mechanisms, Eclipse looks like it will be streamlined enough to play in a shorter time period than Space Empires while at the same time also having a greater degree of flavor thanks to the variety of possible alien races you can play. On the down side, I am not sure if the game’s combat system will be as interesting as Space Empire’s. Even if it is not, it looks like it will be a good alternative for times where we want a 4X game but do not have 4 hours for Space Empires.

5. Colonial: Europe’s Empires Overseas
Colonial still stands as perhaps my ideal colonial exploration and conquest game. The elegance of the mechanics, particularly in how a disc can be treasury, trade good, or influence depending merely on where it is in the board is particularly impressive. I have been excited enough about this one that I already wrote two strategy articles about it, and have been involved in fairly extensive discussions about how certain aspects of the game have played out. This has reduced my excitement for the game slightly, mostly because certain aspects of the game are no longer a mystery. I expect that I will quite enjoy it when I receive it.

6. Dungeon Petz
Despite my general indifference to Vlaada Chvatil’s designs, Dungeon Petz stands out as a game that could very well be exceptional. It is but one of three “putting on a show” style worker placement games that are to be released at Essen 2011, and takes several now well-worn tropes of the genre and gives them both a humor in the vein of 2009’s Dungeon Lords but also an additional level of strategic complexity and tension thanks to the need to meet multiple, competing requirements simultaneously. This combination has also made me more excited about a Vlaada Chvatil design then I have been for quite a while.


7. The Manhattan Project
While its thematic integration is quite impressive, the main thing that intrigues me about the Manhattan Project is its worker placement system. Unlike most other worker placement games which have set rounds for the placement and recovery of workers, in the Manhattan Project it is player-defined, with a player allowed to recall their workers on their turn in exchange for giving up the opportunity to place more, resulting in interesting possibilities for aggressive blocking and use of slower vs. faster placement and recovery as a weapon against your opponents. The rest of the game beyond this mechanic looks pretty solid too, with plenty of little twists and ideas.

8. Singapore
On its surface, Singapore is just another resource conversion game, but this surface view is almost certainly deceiving. The heart of my attraction to Singapore’s system is how it welds this resource conversion structure onto a strong spatial base, with both the creation of the board’s structure, and thus how you are able to take advantage of the resource generation/conversion buildings, being driven by the players themselves. The risks inherent in performing certain types of illegal activity add to the overall appeal, and I am fairly optimistic that this one will end up being worth opening.

9. Ora et Labora
Ora eta Labora looks to be a return to the Agricola/Le Havre style game that really brought Uwe Rosenberg to the attention of the board gaming world. Considering the great esteem I hold both for both of those games I consider this a positive development overall. Unfortunately, I am concerned that Ora et Labora will become a little stale after a while thanks to the lack of any random factors in the game or its set-up and its relatively low amount of direct player interaction. Still, I am excited enough about both its similarities to Rosenberg’s previous hits and its unique little touches that I am definitely going to pick it up.


Try!
10. Upon A Salty Ocean
Upon A Salty Ocean is a tight economic game where players may perform four separate actions, with each choice resulting in an increase in cost for further attempts to take said action. It has all of the features of a potentially great economic game, but I have enough concern about interplay variability that I admit I am a bit hesitant about this one. The potential for this one is strong enough though that I definitely want to try it because, even if it is a failure it will be an interesting failure.

11. Trajan
The mancala mechanic of this one looks both fun and difficult. Mastering it to be able to do what you want when you want it looks like it should be challenging, meaning that the learning curve in gaining mastery of the game should be a bit longer than average, increasing its replay value. Unfortunately, I’ve had enough of a negative reaction to Feld’s precious designs that I am going to try this one before I buy it. I think it is highly likely that I will buy it, but I need to experience it first to be sure.

12. Space Bastards
Space Bastards has a really interesting central mechanic, where players are taking actions based on the relationships between varieties of alien species in order to gain planet-based majorities during scoring rounds. It is not quite like anything I’ve seen before, and I am really looking forward to checking it out. The reason I am unwilling to buy it without trying it is because I am concerned that the rest of the game is not quite strong enough to allow for the central mechanic to flourish. There doesn’t seem to be quite enough turns to make it so the game has a good arc, and I fear that this will be Antics! all over again; a game with a great central mechanic that ultimately isn’t quite good enough because the rest of the game isn’t quite good enough.

13. Pret-a-Porter
The second of three “Lets Put On A Show” worker placement games being released at Essen 2011, Pret-a-Porter looks to be the most economically cutthroat of the three, with two kinds of debt, and a large need to properly manage a large collection of properties and employees in order to sell fashion designs. I am hesitant about this one for two reasons. The first is that I am not sure I need more than one “Lets Put On A Show” worker placement games, and Dungeon Petz looks to be the best of the three. The second is that this will end up being just another somewhat tired economic snowball game. Despite these concerns, it does look interesting enough to try, so it may end up sneaking into my collection after all.

14. Tournay
Troyes was my #3 game for 2010 and, like the rest of the Top 4, is one that I still play regularly. After its success, I am pretty much guaranteed to try the sequel game from these designers, so that alone is enough to get me to try Tournay. Unfortunately, the rules make this game look a bit too light for my taste. I am not sure the decisions are going to be complex enough to make this a game that is worth owning.

16. Belfort
Belfort has some interesting things going on for a worker placement game, both in the method of placing workers and how victory is determined, but I suspect it is not quite unique enough to make its way into my collection. It is interesting enough to investigate though, and I suspect I will try it out at BGG.Con, if not sooner (at Mike’s Mini Meet at the end of the month).
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Thu Oct 20, 2011 4:22 pm
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