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2012 In Review: Part Five ("The Best")

Jesse Dean
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So after a year of new releases it is time for me to go ahead and put together a list of my Top 10 games of 2012. This is liable to change. There are still a few games I need to play and a few that I want to play more, but as of right now this is a pretty good luck at what games I consider to be the best of the last year.

10. Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar

Tzolk’in is a visually stunning and effective worker placement that effectively uses its wheels to present the impending conflicts and difficulties inherent to the decisions presented in the game. Unfortunately, as a worker placement game it is entering a crowded market and it does not do quite enough to distinguish itself from the best of this genre. It is still an effective game though and compared to other releases from this year it does well. It is just not quite exceptional.


9. The Great Zimbabwe


Splotter’s latest release is innovative and interesting, with game play that squarely puts it in the same league as their best releases of the past, but it also shares some of the problems that have presented themselves in other Splotter games, particularly the tendency for later game states among experienced players to become extremely convoluted and painful, as players use the weapons presented to them to grind the game into an excruciating slog to the finish. Still, its innovation is to be lauded, and even if I do not find the entire game to be as engaging as I would like I still appreciate and admire quite a lot about it.

8. Coup


Coup is a bluffing game that seeks to create an effective environment of deceit as players layer lie upon lie, hoping that this network of lies, and the threat of someone accusing them of lying and being wrong, is sufficient to push themselves to the finish line. Its success at this is why I appreciate it so much. After playing it I see little reason to play most other games of this style, including ones that are significantly more complicated than this one. Still, there are some risks in playing it, as there are some groups that it simply will not work with. However, in most groups it will work well, and in some groups it will be a truly outstanding experience. I am suitably impressed.

7. Mage Wars


Mage Wars is a card-based miniatures game that revels in marvelous complexity. Mage Wars is exception-based and uses a series of keywords to differentiate individual spells and creatures, allowing for a suitably textured play experience around the more typical maneuvering and combat that are indicative of this genre. Differentiation is further granted by the funnel that is used to control access to cards. Players only have two potential cards they can play per round, but they are able to choose which cards are accessed from the larger selection that is available in their deck. I appreciate this complexity, but am still bothered by some of Mage Wars’ rough edges as well as the initial difficulty in picking up the game. New players have a lot of mechanics and keywords to wrap their minds around before they can play in anything close to a competent manner.

6. Android: Netrunner

While technically a remake of a collectible card game from the late 90’s, Android: Netrunner is different enough, and it has been long enough since the previous release that it is worth considering it on its own merits. And its merits are considerable, with an engaging bluffing dynamic and a solid enough mechanical framework that entertaining, interesting decisions are available both from a game play and a deck building perspective. Unfortunately, the strength of this deck building is the main reason why I have no real intent to explore Android: Netrunner further. Without an active an energetic community involved with the game, there is little opportunity to explore this deck building without making the game less fun for all involved.

5. Keyflower*


I was wrong about Keyflower. Looking over its rulebook I was convinced it would be similar to what I ultimately decided Tzolk’in was; pleasant with an interesting core but not quite different enough to really stand out from the crowd. I was wrong. Instead Keyflower’s individuality is secure, as the combined auction/placement system reverberates throughout the system resulting in a network of decisions and options that creates an experience that is unique both in the universe of worker placement games and in Key games. This is the second excellent game in a row to come out of R&D games and I am now much more willing to give their future releases the benefit of a doubt both based on its quality and how wrong I was about it.

*My appreciation of Keyflower is based in part on the fact that I play it with a house rule.

4. 1989: Dawn of Freedom


1989: Dawn of Freedom is a refinement and reimplementation of Twilight Struggle that may actually exceed the original. The designer, with the aid of one of the designers of Twilight Struggle, has created a game that is both more balanced and more significantly differentiated then the original. Does this make 1989 better? Well that depends on how much you value the rough edges of Twilight Struggle, and whether you think the balancing in 1989 goes too far. I suspect that 1989 will ultimately be determined to be the better of the two games, but I am not sure if I will ever play it enough to be able to really find out.

3. CO2


Vital Lacerda’s second game easily exceeds his first. Its entire structure is built to force players to think about how their moves are setting up the positions of other players and how they can make moves that induce other players to make moves that help them both. Every single secondary mechanical structure in the game is built to enable players to consider these decisions, as well as juggle a number of other plays in the process. It is fantastic and it makes the game very much worth exploring.

2. Terra Mystica


In many others years (not 2011 though!) Terra Mystica would have been my top game. In fact, I would not be surprised if in six months I end up changing my mind like I did last year with Ora et Labora and Mage Knight. Terra Mystica is exceptional. It is a complex resource conversion and management game with a touch of snowball characteristics that are managed and redirected in clever and interesting ways. It combines interesting mechanical and thematic innovations (power and terraforming being the biggest) with tense and well balanced gameplay. In other word it is the full heavy game package and is something that I expect most fans of heavy, modern eurogames to enjoy.

Extensive play has convinced me that the factions are not completely balanced and this lack of complete balance is not actually all that important. For one, there are enough factions that are close enough together in power level that it is unlikely that you will end up completely screwed even if other people take the theoretically better factions. The other is that I like the potential for players to choose a potentially “tough” faction in order to use a self-imposed handicap or create new challenges.

My own remaining concern about Terra Mystica is the importance of initial faction and bonus selection and placement choices. I can frequently identify someone who has removed themselves from contention from the game based on their early placement and faction choice, and I am mildly concerned that I will eventually be able to identify which person is likely to win based on their faction choice. However, I am nowhere near that point now, with about 20 plays and, considering the amount of time most people play a particular game, this will unlikely to be a problem for most people who play Terra Mystica.

1. Dungeon Command


As a long-time miniature game player, with most of that experience being with Wizards of the Coast produced Collectible Miniatures Games, I actually was pretty skeptical about Dungeon Command. They killed Dreamblade quickly and D&D Miniatures has become a bit of a mess near the end, but two things convinced me to try out Dungeon Command. The first was the designers, I know both Peter Lee and Kevin Tatroe from my time playing the game, and I had some awareness of both of their design sensibilities thanks to discussion with Peter Lee and from actively working with Kevin Tatroe to redesign some miniatures for WoTC for the new version of the D&D Miniatures game. The second was some initial positive buzz I got from people with opinions I trust that played some earlier versions of the game.

So I acquired the initial sets and the result was fantastic. I have little problem stating that Dungeon Command is among the best tactical combat games that I have played, with the only real competition being Earth Reborn (note: I have not played Space Hulk) and Command & Colors: Ancients. The game combines depth of strategic and tactical decisions with portability, approachability, variability, and just enough luck to make things interesting without allowing it to overwhelm play decisions.

Unfortunately, the true strength of the game does not really come out in full until you can see more of the game then is really possible with just the two initial sets. Creature and order deck building pushes it into an entirely new level, and once you reach that point you have already put a significant investment into the game even if you only play with one copy of each of the different faction packs.

Still, if you are willing to get past that initial investment, then Dungeon Command is a hell of a game. Tense, fun, and full of possibilities, and I am glad that I overcame my initial skepticism and tried the game out. It has greatly reduced my desire to play most other tactical combat games, and I am really looking forward to seeing what possibilities are opened with expansions.
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Thu Jan 31, 2013 1:22 am
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Two Small Updates

Jesse Dean
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#1: Aldie has posted his annual "Top X of 2012" set and has honored the blogs section by adding it to those that are listed. You can check it out here: Top Blog Posts of 2012. It is a pretty interesting list and it is nice both to see how my blogs have done in comparison with everybody else's over the course of the year. It has also been helpful in identifying to me some fun entries I missed!

#2: I posted my review of CO2: Vital Lacerda's Best Game (So Far).

In the next two weeks I expect to have up my Top 10 of 2012 as well as the next review in my series: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar!
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Fri Jan 4, 2013 8:00 pm
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2012 in Review: Part Four ("The Rest")

Jesse Dean
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There is always some level of uncertainty in putting together an end of year list at the actual end of the year. Unlike most other mediums, it takes a lot of time, and the involvement of other people, to critically assess a board game work, and there are enough games at this point that I only have a shallow understanding of that a list like this will always be tentative. Still, I think there is some value to reviewing all of the games that I played over the course of the year, even if there is some understanding that at some point in the future (probably in June) I will be revising my Top 10 based on additional experiences with both the games that are on the list and ones that I have not yet played.

My overall impression of 2012 was that it was a good year, but not one that quite lives up to 2011. I had no new 10 rated games this year, but there were plenty of games that I rate an 8 or a 7 across a variety of genres, and two 9s that may potentially shake up my personal Top 10. My average ratings for the games played this year (37 different ones) is about the same as for those played in 2011 (40 different ones) and I do not expect very much drift over the course of time. Some will almost certainly go up while others go down and I will end up considering both to be very good years, though for different kinds of games. 2011 was stronger for thematic games and special power card games, while 2012 was a better year for eurogames.


Like last year, I am going to discuss games that are on my “The Rest” list first, covering the good (that did not quite make my Top 10 for the year), the bad, and the ugly for 2012.

3: Poor Game. Will Strongly Resist Playing.



D-Day Dice (2 plays)
The cooperative elements are essentially irrelevant, as this is effectively a solo game that you can play with other players on your team. As I am not really into solo dice games, and repetitive ones at that, this game ultimately failed for me.

Dragon Rampage (1 play)
Dragon Rampage is a thematic dice drafting game where players are attempting to steal loot from a dragon and then escape from its lair. I found it to be a bit overwrought for the core mechanic, and generally not worth the amount of time it takes.

Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre (1 play)
Extremely stupid but mercifully short in its stupidity.

4: Below average game. I avoid playing and would need to be persuaded.



Abaddon (1 play)
The most simplistic and boring expression of the Command & Colors system I have seen. I was hoping for a bit more from C&C plus mechs, but I guess I should have realized that this might have been geared more towards a younger demographic

Divided Republic (1 play)
At first look this game looks like it should work, but the game is subject to such wild swings of fortune that I would already be at least somewhat skeptical of it. The fact that it is subject to uneven wild swings of fortunes is what pushes it over the edge from “potentially intriguing” to “problematic” particularly when combined with the take that card play. I was hoping that this would have potential as an alternative multi-player CDG to Successors, but it just did not measure up.

Dominare (1 play)
Dominare has an extremely interesting system based on drafting character cards and combining these cards into a cohesive strategy, but it muddles the strength of that structure with in your face take that game play and late game abilities that make most actions during the early rounds completely irrelevant. I still have some hope that this system, which is good, will be used in some other game that implements it well, but this game is not it.

Sky Traders (1 play)
A medium-weight marginal decision game disguised as a long and heavy game. If they found to cut this down to an hour it might be worth playing, but as it is the fun I got out of it was entirely in seeing how ridiculous the combat system was and blowing up each other’s ships. I gave it away after my first play.

5: Average game. I'm indifferent, but may be willing to play.



Dragon Valley
I appreciated the I split/you choose aspects of the game as well as the emulation of tower defense, but I found that the game seemed to be uneven, with a reasonably large amount of downtime and an overemphasis on tactical decision making for a game of its length. This was one of the games that I requested and received as a review copy, and ended up being fairly disappointed about.

For The Win (2 plays)
A special power abstract that reminded me a bit of Hive, I found the theme to be a bit silly but the game play was solid. I suspect I would actually like this one a bit more if I was into abstracts, but as it is, I would rather just play with the extra depth and nuance of a tactical miniatures game.

Infiltration (1 plays)
I thought Infiltration worked well thematically, and I actually respect the game quite a bit because of that. Unfortunately, the game play, which is mostly based on a single giant push-your luck exercise was not quite enough to excite me or pull me in for a second play. If your interests are more driven by theme or tend more towards the lighter end of gaming, then I suspect this would be a pretty reasonable option.

Milestones (1 play)
Milestones is very, very solid for a generic mid-weight euro but it suffers from being a mid-weight euro. Competent, but not particularly exciting and lacking some of the depth and potential for exploration that makes my favorite games sing.

Seasons (1 play)
I only have played this with four, and I have since been told that this is a bad number to play with. I also got into a position of lock-down, where I was effectively not able to do anything for the latter half of the game. That being said, looking over the cards both prior to the play and immediately afterwards I did not find anything about the game that said it stood out or was worth playing in addition to other special power card games out there, there was a few things that were interesting about it, but nothing that was interesting enough for me to bother with after one of the first initial impressions I have had of any game.

Smash Up (1 play)
This has essentially the same theme as For The Win, only developed in a slightly different direction, being a special power card game rather than one focused on abstract positioning. It was mildly entertaining, but ended up being a little bit too straightforward and reliant on bash the leader maneuvering to really be something that I like. Still, it is better than a lot of games of its ilk, so I would be willing to play it again under the right conditions.

6: OK game. Some fun or challenge at least. Enjoyable in the right circumstances.



Ginkogopolis (1 play)
I played this at BGG.Con, and found it to be a pleasant and reasonably interesting experience, but not one that I felt featured a huge amount of depth or need to play again. Still, it has been tickling my brain a little bit, and has a marginal chance of going up in my estimation if I ever play it a bit more and discover some of my initial impressions were wrong. This seems unlikely though, as it is not one that has been picked up for play by the locals.

Legacy: Gears of Time (1 play)
I found both the prerequisite system and how you could travel back in time to be both entertaining and fun, and the resources system to be pretty effective, but the relative randomness and high impact of the special power cards, that could completely screw with or undermine a player’s position with little chance of mitigation or prediction. I suspect I will play it again, mostly because we have enthusiastic fans of it in my game group, but I suspect that my estimation of it will not change with further plays.

Lords of Waterdeep (5 plays)
Lords of Waterdeep is effective, but slight, giving enough of an impression of longer, deeper, and more involved games that it makes me just wish that I was playing them. It is still good at what it is, being a gateway worker placement game, or something like that fans of D&D can enjoy, and I do appreciate some of the more clever parts of the game, it is just that there are many other worker placement games I would rather play.

Pax Porfiriana (2 plays)
My first play of Pax Porfiriana left me intrigued and the second one left me frustrated and bored. So I am left torn, hopeful that my first experience is one that will end up being the most common result of a play of Pax Porfiriana, but concerned that I am deluding myself and that the more tedious experience of my second play will be much more indicative of my most common experience. Either way there is enough here, and enough uncertainty that I plan to play this game more extensively once it is more generally available. As such, its rating and overall ranking is probably the most tentative one on this list. If my further plays are as flaccid as the first then it will plummet, while if it was as promising as the first it will improve.

Pirates of Nassau (1 play)
As a dice-driven pirate-themed euro, Pirates of Nassau isn’t bad. I found its central mechanic to be clever, but most of the game beyond the central mechanism was neither distinctive enough nor interesting enough for me to want to play it beyond that initial play. Chunky victory points and trivial hidden trackable information only added to my overall disinterest.

Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin (9 plays)
The revised edition improves on Thunderstone, but not so much so that I felt any strong desire to play it extensively. I can say that I distinctly prefer Thunderstone Advance to Dominion at this point, but if I want to do deck-building, I would rather play Mage Knight, and if I want to play a shorter game there is a plethora of other ones that I enjoy more. Still Thunderstone Advance does hold some measure of enjoyment and fun, and it is one I would play under the right circumstances.

7: Good game. Usually willing to play. I might even request or recommend it.



Ground Floor (7 plays)
Ground Floor is an effective, solid worker placement eurogame that is distinct largely because of its thematic tightness and the fact that it breaks the typical trend of additional workers being better than less workers. I quite like the dynamics but the amount of time you spend focused on that seem to be overshadowed by the time you spend focused on the resource conversion. Still, quite enjoyable, particularly if you are fan of the worker placement genre.

Keyflower (2 plays)
Keyflower is better than I expected, and I find both the auction mechanic and the worker placement to be clever and enjoyable. Unfortunately the game offers only limited opportunities for planning. While giving each player a preview of the potential scoring tiles is much appreciated, this only tells you if things you are bidding on will be useful at the end, not if they are going to be useful on the journey there, resulting in a bit of possibility for someone to be put into a particularly poor position to random factors. It also relies a bit on hidden, trackable information but that is easily resolved, and the game seems infinitely better for it.

Merchant of Venus (Second Edition) (1 play)
I have only played the classic version, but MoV (SE)’s components are garish and distracting enough that I doubt I will ever play FFG’s new version, instead sticking with the classic copy that I own. They are bad enough that I have lowered MoV’s rating by a point, though this point loss is only from the perspective of a world without an available copy of the old version of MoV. With that available, I put this more around a 4 or a 5.

Rex: Final Days of an Empire (4 plays)
A remake of Dune, which I still have never played, I liked Rex but could not love it. I really liked how the game constrained diplomacy, I have always been less than fond of wilder and more wooly diplomatic games, and the resource management and bidding were all quite fun. Unfortunately, balance concerns, fragility, and thematic disconnect all held me back from truly loving the game, and between that and distaste for it with my frequent gaming partners I ended up passing it along.

Suburbia (12 plays)
I like Suburbia despite my usual inclinations. As a middle-weight economic snowball game it should be somewhere in the 3-5 range, but Suburbia’s strengths seriously outweigh the problems I have with some of its core mechanics. I appreciate the subtlety that is involved in Suburbia’s combo building. The many ways that the game’s goals and structures interact, and the myriad of decisions available on any given player’s turn are both compelling and I have found that this is an easy choice in the 60-90 minute slot.

Honorable Mention (Outlook Unclear: Ask Again Later)




Al-Rashid (1 play)
My one play of Al-Rashid was pretty satisfying, but I am not quite sure yet whether it was good enough to stand above all the other great worker placement resource conversion games out there. It does have the advantage of having a pretty interesting resource conversion system, and I like the breadth of the special powers, though with a single play I can’t realistically claim to know how balanced they are. The only real problem area I saw was with the relative tightness of the resources. Even with four players it seemed a little bit too loose, and going into the end game, there was no real competition left, making activation order somewhat irrelevant. I suspect it would be better with five players and with more opportunities for players to maliciously activate locations, but these are both things that will require further play to identify. Luckily, a review copy is on its way, so I will be able to effectively explore it and determine how good of a game it really is.

Because of my uncertainty after a single play, I have only given it an extremely tentative rating of a 7. After/if I play it further I will revise this, and potentially consider it for my Top 10.

Archipelago (6 plays)
Essentially Archipelago is a civilization game that replaces opportunities for war and direct conflict with a shared loss condition, based on the rebellion of the archipelago and the players, as colonial powers, being forced away. This is a very real threat, and three of the five games I played ended with a collective loss based on this condition. What makes the game particularly interesting from this perspective is the fact that it is up to the players to prevent this from happening, either through market management, which requires some level of experience, or luck in regards to what source of resources are demanded by the populace. Some of the actions that players are most likely to advance their own position are also the most likely to cause the island to go into revolt and if one player gets too far ahead the incentives are there for them to tank the game, if they can, bringing it to a halt if they are in an unrecoverable position.

What the ultimate effects are of shared loss are for experienced players is something that I need to explore before I determine what I think about the game, and why I think I will need a significant number of plays of Archipelago before I feel ready to give it a proper review. Even beyond the shared loss condition, the game has a lot of interesting subsystems that tie the game together on both a thematic and a mechanical level. Each of my plays has revealed something new that I appreciated on this level, and I suspect that I have not even seen a fraction of what the game has to offer.

Andean Abyss (1 play)
Andean Abyss is a complex game, complex enough that a single play is not going to provide nearly enough of an insight to determine its actual quality. On the plus side, I appreciate the distinctiveness of the varying player powers and goals and the action selection mechanism. On the downside it looks like there is a strong chance that the game will come down to a mere bash-the-leader fest as players knock down whomever dares to get too far up until someone is able to pull off a victory. Unfortunately, this is also one that I may never get a firm conclusion on because of the utter lack of interest in it locally. I quite liked my single play of it, and now I may never know if that play was reflective or deceptive.


Up next will be my list of my Top 10 games of 2012!
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Thu Jan 3, 2013 8:32 pm
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2012 In Review: Part 3 (BGG's Top Games of 2012)

Jesse Dean
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As 2012 comes to a close I find myself fairly interested in how the most-well regarded games of 2011 reflect on the year as a whole. Since 2012’s Essen games are only just now making an impact on the board game world, I’ve gone ahead and included two charts reflecting BGG’s consensus on 2012 games, the Top 10 of 2012 by Ranking and the Significant games of 2012 by Average Rating.





I went ahead and included more than the Top 10 (or so) games of 2012 in the average rating chart, because of what I consider to be the defining feature of gaming in 2012: The sheer quantity of reprints that are on these lists. The Top 10 has 3 or 4 (depending on where you categorize Android: Netrunner) and the Significant Games list has 4 or 5 (once again depending on where you categorize Android: Netrunner). I consider this to be mildly corrosive from an idealized perspective, as it kind of disrupts the ideal of having a list of the hobby, as seen through BoardGameGeek, games viewed with the most respect, but I understand that other people perceive it differently. Regardless, the sheer quantity of them compelled me to go a bit deeper into the highest average rating list in order to get a better idea of the significant new games of 2012.

Something else that differentiates 2012 from 2011 at least, I do not have sufficient data for previous years, is the sheer quantity of games with an average rating of 8.00 or higher. Granted, I looked at the average ratings on the 19th last year, but I would be rather startled if a large number of these games had a significant drop in average rating over the course of a week. I suspect that a lot of these games will not end up making a bit impact on the rankings, simply due to a lack of ability to accumulate a large number of ratings, but it does seem that that the average board gamer thinks that 2012 was a high-quality year.

2012 is distinct from the sheer diversity of games styles that are doing well. Where in years past there was usually one type of game that dominated with others having a few spots here and there, in 2012 there seemed to be a selection of games across types. Even games that periodically have weak years, such as cooperative games, are well-represented. Whether this is indicative of a change in the quality of different types of games being produced or a change in the BGG rating electorate is something I am less certain of, but on the whole I think it is positive as it does allow a large variety of people to be able to find games that might interest them.

Personally, I have only played about half of the games that made it on these two lists, and of the ones that remain, there are none that I am actually interested in playing. In fact, at this point in time there are only two games left that were published in 2012 that I have a strong interest in playing (Myrmes and Polis: Fight For the Hegemony) meaning that I have either become much more adept at finding the games I am more likely to like and ignoring the rest, that there are less games of the sort that I am interested in playing released this year, or that I am missing out on some fantastic games that would suit me well.

A Look Back At 2011
Since I wrote an article like this last year too, I can go back and see how games released last year ended up doing. Based on last year’s average rating list, the expected game rank list should have looked something like this:
Eclipse
Mage Knight
Ora et Labora
A Few Acres of Snow
Star Trek: Fleet Captains
Gears of War: The Board Game
Trajan
The Castles of Burgundy
Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
Dungeon Petz
Yomi

This is how it ended up:
Eclipse
Mage Knight
Puerto Rico: Limited Edition
Ora et Labora
The Castles of Burgundy
Summoner Wars: Master Set
A Game of Thrones Board Game: Second Edition
Trajan
Lords of the Rings: The Card Game
A Few Acres of Snow
Village
Risk Legacy
Dixit Odyessy
Dungeon Petz

There are a few surprises here. The first is that for some reason I decided it would be a good idea to leave out games I considered being expansions or reprints. That was obviously silly of me and I will avoid doing that in the future. I expected both Star Trek Fleet Captains and Gear of War to still be on this list, but apparently they followed the typical trends and were not able to maintain their previous averages, though Fleet Captains was able to do much better than Gears of War and mostly suffers due to the low number of total ratings. Yomi, A Few Acres of Snow, and the Lord of the Rings Card Game all lost average rating and rankings, with AFAoS’s decline being both the most noticeable and the most satisfying. Village is the most notable in the opposite direction. Apparently it winning a major German award was sufficient to give it a new wave of attention as its average rating increased and its ranking increased significantly. I remain somewhat tempted to try it out. I trashed it pretty heavily in my pre-release prediction article, and it would be nice to know if I was actually wrong.

Of the past five years 2011 makes up the second largest share of the overall games in the Top 150 (and the Top 100), with 19 total games. 2010 has 16, and further years feature an increasingly smaller amount of games, as only the most popular and/or successful are able to maintain their position in the face of relentless pressure from new games. The exception seems to be 2009, which currently holds the most total games in the Top 150, despite the fact that I, and many other people I discuss game with, consider it one of the less interesting years in recent memory.

So that is where we currently stand. I look forward to seeing what the rankings do for next year and, now that I am collecting this data, seeing how the shares of particular years in the Top 100 and Top 150 shifts over the course of time.
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Mon Dec 10, 2012 7:41 pm
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2012 Year In Review: Part 2 (State of the Blog)

Jesse Dean
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I started On Gamer’s Games a little over a year ago for a few reasons. The first, and most important, reason was that I was greatly enjoying writing and the discussions that resulted from that writing. I had been a founding member of the original Geekchat League (a discussion style group on BGG, of which there are several active) and while I had enjoyed my time there it was no longer as fulfilling as it once was. I wanted more, and I saw BGG’s relatively new blog feature as a way to both produce writing and be involved in the discussions that I craved.

The second reason was simply because I noticed a bit of a hole in the BGG marketplace of ideas. There really wasn’t anyone doing in-depth reviews of the deeper and heavier board games that I loved so, and I figured that if I wrote well, and wrote often, I could build an audience and, potentially, get involved in some fun and interesting discussions. By making my voice consistent, and having a relatively strong idea of what I liked and did not like, individuals who liked these games could compare how their tastes matched to mine and make a more informed decisions then they would be able to when just reading a random lady or gentleman’s review.

The third was my desire to investigate the social dynamics of BoardGameGeek. Considering that thumbs are the most obvious indicator of popularity, I figured that trying to experiment with seeing how many thumbs I could get, while still achieving my previous two goals, would be fun, as it would allow me to potentially learn about what attracted and held people’s attention while still pursuing my previous goals. As part of this I eventually decided I also wanted to learn how to go about getting review copies from publishing companies. This was partially because I figured it would be an indication that I had “made it”, that I had developed enough of a reputation and understanding of social dynamics of BGG. It was also partially in order to help build my audience, as early access to hot new games is one of the best ways to draw attention to your work, though of course it also requires that you have effective content that is worth consuming.

I have learned a few things based on my efforts. One of those is that when writing about a particular game anywhere from 50% to 75% of the thumbs you get are based on the game itself rather than anything you are writing, assuming you have written an article of high enough quality. When you post it is also key. The most popular reviews of a game are frequently the first and/or the most comprehensive. My most popular review was the first one of a game by a popular designer and was also very comprehensive and I think most of my other reviews have been successful because I try to push hard on the comprehensive end of things. Another is that that if your goal is a combination of quality of analysis and popularity that there is a particular sweet spot in quantity of words. My most popular reviews have all had a roughly similar length, and I have reached the point where I have a good idea of how many thumbs any particular article is going to get based on what the game is, how long the article is, and how good the article is, though I am still surprised sometimes such as with my Terra Mystica review (I was expecting a bit more thumbs) or quite a few of my blog entries (where I was expecting less).

One unexpected, though very welcome, benefit of this has been the creation of an absolutely top notch set of commenters. I get excited to post my articles not only because of all the effort I put into them or to test a social hypothesis, but also because I am looking forward to what my newfound digital friends have to say about some idea I am putting forth or game that I am examining. It is also fun to see who thumbs the post because, outside of commenting, as that is a way I can see if someone I know reads the blog (or my reviews for that matter) got a chance to look at this new entry, and also to see if there is someone new following along.

I also like how the BGG blog community has grown in that time. It does seem that quite a few frequent and semi-frequent bloggers comment on my entries, and that some of them have made connections with each other through this comment section. For some articles it almost feels like my comment section has become a café of sorts, as people get together and talk about whatever topic is on their mind. Sometimes it does not even end up being what I wrote about in the first place, and while sometimes I wonder, “What does this have to do with anything?”, it is still fun to see the conversations evolve and everyone’s opinions of the particular topic of the day.

Part of the reason I asked about everyone the questions I did was in order to get an idea of what occasional commenters were finding to be particularly engaging or boring. I was pretty thrilled with the response, both because of the quantity of responders, but also because it was able to give me a good idea of both the diversity of things that everyone seems to like about my writing as well as topics that I could start touching on next year.

The two things that seemed most universally popular were the reviews and the pre-release predictions articles. The reviews did not surprise me, to be honest, as I have always known that they were popular, but I was a little more surprised about the pre-release predictions. I have heard more complaints about them than anything else, and the fact that a significant percentage of you enjoy them stands as a good indicator that I should continue producing them. Producing the reviews was never in question, but I admit I was wondering how much value people were getting out of my pre-release prediction articles, and am glad that the response was positive.

Some of the more unpopular items were strategy articles, my articles about BGG itself, and my writings about miniatures and more Ameritrash-focused games. Strategy articles are not something I am going to ever stop writing, as I enjoy writing them about as much as I like writing reviews and they do get a pretty favorable response, even if they are not my most popular item. The same applies to my articles about BGG rankings and awards. I love seeing how objects behave in a system and how the psychology of BGG results in certain outcomes, and seeing how things are going to work out each year, and if I can successfully predict them, is enjoyable enough that I am going to continue writing about that. I am less certain about writing about miniature games. I like these games a bit, and enjoy writing about them, but I am in this as much for the discussion, and with less of a response, and thus less discussion it may eventually prove to no longer be worth it.

I got a lot of fun article suggestions, and I have put together a list of things that I am planning on writing about for the rest of 2012 and 2013, in addition to articles that sneak up on me in that period. The list is:
1) Hansa Teutonica Expansion review plus a voice of experience review of the game in general. (This got multiple requests and thus will be a high priority)
2) Agricola review (under the general request for a voice of experience/older games review)
3) Mage Knight Expansion review plus a voice of experience review of the game in general
4) Polis: Fight For The Hegemony review. (This depends on me finding a copy and finding someone willing to explore it with me.)
5) Discussing games that my opinion of changed significantly over time, including recent examples.
6) Discussing my Top 5 games.
7) Discussing how the games of 2012 fit into my “Innovations, Reimplementations, and Retreads” article
8) An article discussing the various people I play with, to give further context for what I write about and my experiences.

If you have any other specific article requests let me know. I am open to suggestions!

There were also some questions or concerns that were asked that I did not get to in the comments, or which I felt should be highlighted further that I felt warranted mentioning in a larger post.

The first was about review copies, and a general preference that I do not receive them. I have long had mixed feelings about receiving review copies, as I have noted in previous works that I have been involved in, and even now, despite the fact that I think I have been able to keep my opinion’s separated from the relationships built in the pursuit of getting these copies, I feel uncomfortable with it. So I will no longer be accepting review copies after my current commitments have come to an end.

The second was about how to get review copies. Essentially my answer to that, is to write (or better yet record, as publishers like video better) reviews that are popular. Find a niche, get lots of views on YouTube and/or thumbs on BoardGameGeek and then contact the publishers with a resume. If you have an established body of work and proof that people listen to you, it is not that difficult.

A few people asked me about writing more about games or in ways I am not that interested in. Instead it was phrased as in, “Write about games I like!”, “Write more about medium and light-weight games!”, or “Write with less analysis and more emotion!” All of those items are unlikely to happen and if they do happen they will be because I happen to like those sorts of games, or feel emotional about something, rather than through any specific decisions on my part. Doing otherwise will just lead to burn out and will ultimately result in me no longer writing. This is something I would prefer not to happen.

I was asked if I would consider doing a regular podcast segment. The fact is, I was actually offered such a segment on the Dice Tower, and while technically I am still considering the offer, I mostly decided against it for a few reasons. The first is that while I do like podcasts a lot more then I like video, I also would prefer that most of my content be directed at my blog and reviews, and while I am perfectly fine with being involved in roundtable discussions, such as the ones I have participated in for my favorite podcast, The Long View, I do not think I would want to divide my attention in the way required to effectively produce a segment.

So that is where I am at. I expect to post a lot this month, mostly because my end of year posts have the unique combination of both being fun and easy to write about, but I suspect that after the new year I will write about one major article per week, either a review or a blog post. The Fall and early Winter will typically be focused on new releases and Essen speculation while the Spring and Summer will be more focused on meta-commentary, articles about genres and games families and reviews of older games or ones that I missed over the course of the previous year.
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Fri Dec 7, 2012 8:55 pm
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2012 Year In Review: Part 1 (My Played Games)

Jesse Dean
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As 2012 comes to an end, it is time, once again, for me to start performing my year in review. Last year I started out with a look at my games played. As was the case last year, I doubt I will be playing much that is new between now and the end of the month, with the only likely exception being Myrmes, so if anything these numbers should just improve between now and then. Instead I expect most of my plays to be repeats of newer games or older favorites, particularly Terra Mystica (extremely popular locally), Archipelago (extreme hesitance locally), Keyflower, CO2, Al-Rashid, and Coup.




• One played game was an Unpublished Prototype. It is not included in this table.


I consider this year to be a bit mixed both in quantity and quality. Compared to last year I have played more, but that is in part because of a brief stint into Magic which netted me 100 plays since the summer. I played a lot more games I rate 6 and 7 and less that I rate an 8 or 9. I blame that in part due to the brief disintegration of my play group over the summer, which resulted in my playing more random stuff at game night and losing my regular Sunday game day, and in part due to the fact that I reviewed, due to receiving review copies, more games that I ended up being only mildly favorable or unfavorable towards rather than truly enthusiastic. In all likelihood my plays will shift back up towards my favorites or ones that have a good chance of being favorites as I accept and request less (or none at all, still deciding) review copies. On the bright side, I ended up playing a lot more of the games I rate 10 this year. This is largely due to my intense enthusiasm for Mage Knight, which made up 29 of the 49 10 plays this year.

The percentage of games that I played 10 or more times remained fairly constant, but the percentage for the next two categories dropped in the face of more singleton plays. Part of this is due to collection maturity. There are some games in my collection that I like a great deal, want to keep, but only get to play a few times a year. Considering my overall desire for a lean collection, these are ones that are probably most likely to get the chopping block as I have a few new favorites for which I will need to make room.

I am honestly not sure what my gaming conditions will look like in 2013. I hope to continue on with regular Wednesday gaming and irregular gaming at other points in the week and also have a desire to increase the amount of time I spend playing my favorites. I think my ideal would probably be to get a two player game partner, as that would allow me to play some two player favorites more frequently without it cutting into my multi-player game time. I am not quite sure how to go about that though, so we will see what happens.

Up until last night I would have picked some game from BGG.Con 2012 as my favorite. However, last night exceeded that. We were figuring out how to sort into games (I was pushing for CO2 but we had a lot of people who wanted to play Terra Mystica). So we drew game pieces. I ended up in the Terra Mystica game, and someone who really wanted to play TM was not, and I relented and offered them my spot. The mentioned gentleman and his wife suggested maybe I should play in both games simultaneously. So I did. That in of itself would have made it pretty fun, but what made it even crazier is that I won both games. I do not expect that to ever happen again, I almost certainly had to have several things that I did not have control over to break my way for it to happen in the first place, but the sheer fact that it happened is both crazy and very, very entertaining.

How was your gaming in 2012?
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Thu Dec 6, 2012 4:27 pm
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Golden Geek Awards: 2012

Jesse Dean
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On the whole awards are silly, and I have not been particularly impressed with the awards by any dedicated awards group in quite a while. That being said, I do still like the Golden Geek Awards. Partially because they are “our” awards as the BGG community, and also because I more frequently find myself agreeing with them then the awards of any other organization out there. So I still participate, both in the voting and the nominations, every year. This year is no different, and I have put together a selection of games I will be voting for this year. Note, I do not vote for games I have not played, or seen in the case of the art award.

2-Player
1. 1989: Dawn of Freedom
2. Android: Netrunner
3. Summoner Wars: Master Set
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
Notable Omissions: Dungeon Command, which would have otherwise been in the first spot for me.
Who I think will win: Android: Netrunner

Abstract Game
I have not played any of this year’s nominees.

Artwork and Presentation
1. Dungeon Petz
2. Mage Knight: The Board Game
3. Lords of Waterdeep
4. King of Tokyo
5. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
6. Eclipse
7. Belfort

I think Dungeon Petz has a particularly effective combination of presentation and functionality, though Mage Knight is also noteworthy in how effectively it presents complex game state information. Good show on both.

Notable Omissions: None
Who I think will win: Eclipse

Card Game
1. Blood Bowl Team Manager: The Card Game
2. Android: Netrunner
3. Sentinels of the Multiverse
4. Summoner Wars: Master Set
5. Eminent Domain
6. Core Worlds
7. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
8. Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin

Notable Omissions: Mage Knight the Board Game
Who I think will win: Android: Netrunner

Children’s Games
I have not played any of this year’s nominees except King of Tokyo, and do not feel qualified to vote.

Expansion
I do not have any particular appreciation for any of the games with nominated expansions, so could not accurately judge which was better than the others. So I did not vote.

Family Game
I do not approach board gaming from a family gaming perspective, and did not vote for this category.

Innovative
1. Mage Knight Board Game
2. Risk Legacy
3. Ascending Empires
4. Quarriors!
5. D-Day Dice
6. Trajan
10. Eclipse
10. Last Will
10. Village

For reasons I have gone into extensively elsewhere, I think Mage Knight is a very innovative game. That being said, I would not be too torn up about Risk Legacy winning, and honestly expect that to be the winner. I do not consider, Eclipse, Last Will, or Village to be innovative enough to be in the running for this award.

Notable Omissions: Cave Evil
Who I think will win: Risk Legacy

Party Game
I do not approach board gaming from a party gaming perspective, and did not vote for this category.

Print & Play
I have not played any of this year’s nominees except D-Day Dice, and do not feel qualified to vote.

Strategy Game
1. Mage Knight Board Game
2. Ora et Labora
3. Dungeon Petz
4. Eclipse
5. Trajan
6. Lords of Waterdeep
7. The Castles of Burgundy
8. Hawaii
9. Belfort

I apparently need to play Village in order to have an effective perspective on last year’s games.
Notable Omissions: Andean Abyss, Vanuatu
What I think will win: Eclipse

Thematic Game
1. Mage Knight Board Game
2. Blood Bowl: Team Manager the Card Game
3. Dungeon Petz
4. King of Tokyo
5. Eclipse
6. D-Day Dice

Notable Omissions: Cave Evil
What I think will win: Mage Knight Board Game

Wargame
1. Andean Abyss
2. 1989: Dawn of Freedom
3. Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan
4. Risk Legacy
5. D-Day Dice
6. Eclipse

I think Eclipse is a better game than D-Day Dice, but I also do not think it is a wargame or belongs in this category.
Notable Omissions: N/A
What I think will win: Eclipse

So there we have it. Are there any particularly notable omissions that you noticed? Anything in particular you want to win?
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Wed Oct 3, 2012 3:13 pm
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Special Power Card Games of 2011

Jesse Dean
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Introduction
2011 is widely considered to have been a great year for games. It has been particularly lauded, by fans of ameritrash (AT)*, for which it is arguably the best year since 2005, but what I found to be particularly exceptional about the year is how it is perhaps the best year yet for special power card games (SPCG) which, after years of releasing a relatively sparse selection of titles since they first began to regularly appear on to the board game scene in 2004, finally have about as many titles in the Top 20 ranked games of 2011** as there are Ameritrash titles and Eurogame titles.

This is the culmination of a gradual trend in the increase of the number of well received SPCG. While the historic roots of these games extend back to Magic the Gathering and earlier, the first modern game to begin to establish current trends was San Juan in 2004. 2005, with Glory to Rome, and 2006, with Through the Ages, also featured well-received games, but it was not until 2007, with Race For The Galaxy, and 2008, with Dominion, where SPCG really achieved some level of momentum and prominence.

In fact, it could be argued that much of the current momentum for SPCG can be attributed to Dominion, and while this is almost certainly true, with 5 of the 13 most well-received SPCG since 2008 being deck-building games, what we are seeing is a much broader push, with a large number of rather distinct designs. From my perspective, it seems that some of the most interesting, and perhaps innovative, games of the last two years have been SPCG, where eurogames and AT have not seen quite as much.

My investigation of the SPCG released in the last ten years has happened concurrently with my exploration of my dissatisfaction with most sub-90 minute games, and I suspect that a large part of my dissatisfaction stems from my enjoyment of these SPCG. These games typically provide a level of interplay variability and opportunity for creative play that many games in this time frame lack, and it has difficult to convince myself to play other games in this category unless, like Hansa Teutonica, they also feature some of these strengths.

I have played six of the top eight SPCG of 2011 enough that I feel that I can effectively present why I like them. The seventh, A Few Acres of Snow, I have only played once but I have studied enough that I think I can discuss what is particularly interesting about the design. The last one, The Lords of the Rings: Card Game I have also played only once, but I think what makes it particularly special is obvious, even to someone who has not played it extensively. If I am wrong about it, I am sure someone will let me know.

Mage Knight the Board Game

My selection of Mage Knight the Board Game as a SPCG might end up being mildly controversial, but its biggest emphasis is on deck and hand management, with the board being merely an expression of how the player uses their cards. I have played it 34 times to date, and if I have my way I will push that number up to 50 by the end of the year. It is perhaps the best game in a year of very good games, and is in the running for my favorite game of all time.

In most deck building games, players use their cards to generate one of several currencies and use those currencies in order to move towards achieving the victory conditions. Dominion has money for victory points; Thunderstone has money which buys cards and then attack power which is used to get victory points; Ascension has money for cards, which are worth victory points, and power to defeat monsters for victory points. Mage Knight also uses cards to generate one of four different currencies, but rather than these currencies being direct avenues to victory points, they are instead used to translate into action on the board which can then be used to generate victory points. This additional level of separation between the player’s actions and victory points, and the shift in focus that it results in, is probably Mage Knight’s most important innovation and is one that I personally find to be very satisfying.

The other major shift between Mage Knight and other deck building games is its slightly decreased focus on deck building itself. Generally, the cards you have at the beginning of the game will still be important parts of your strategy at the end of the game, where in many other deck building games, getting rid of your initial cards is extremely important. Additionally, you will typically only reshuffle your deck anywhere between two and five times over the course of a game of Mage Knight, meaning that any individual card you acquire, which is always put on the top of your draw deck, will only be used between one and six times over the course of the game. These combined factors put a strong focus on hand management over deck building, which is a nice shift considering how many deck-buildings leave their most important decisions in the deck building phase rather than in the card play phase.

A Few Acres of Snow

Though slightly controversial due to the broken Halifax Hammer strategy, A Few Acres of Snow has introduced some interesting innovations, which I expect will be utilized in future designs, including Martin Wallace’s own. I have only played A Few Acres of Snow once, but I am familiar enough with the game that I can discuss its particular characteristics.

A Few Acres of Snow is closer to a traditional deck builder than Mage Knight the Board Game. Both cycling your deck and deck thinning are helpful, and ideally you will go through your deck a plethora of times before the game ends. It provides a typical two currency model, but also introduces a level of permanence by having it so both currencies continue to persist beyond the individual rounds in which they are introduced. This is interesting, but is not what I consider to be the most interesting thing that A Few Acres of Snow does. Instead it is how different board locations work in relation to each other.



A Few Acres of Snow’s board features a series of networked points, with adjacency not so much determined by where they are in relation to each other on the board, though this is an important factor, but where individual location cards say these adjacencies exist. So in order for you to accomplish most actions related to board play, you need to not only be in a position on the map where you have an adjacency to the appropriate location, but also have the card that serves as the bridge to get there. This serves as a way to tie a feeling of “place” directly into the deck building and hand management aspects of the game. The deck represents not only resources you have access to but also where you are, which is something I find to be both effective and intriguing.




The Lords of the Rings: Card Game


I am less familiar with The Lords of the Rings: Card Game, and really most of FFG’s Living Card Game catalog, than any other item on this list. I played it once, probably incorrectly, a year ago and what I saw was not interesting enough for me to come back. However, despite this inexperience I can still appreciate how it was able to effectively combine cooperative games with SPCG, and I think that alone is probably worthy of note.

Blood Bowl: Team Manager


Blood Bowl: Team Manager’s greatest achievements are in the realm of simulation. Intended to serve to simulate a series of games of Blood Bowl, it effectively provides the feeling of managing a team on the rise, as it gets additional staffing and star players while accumulating fans throughout the season.

Each turn features a set of “highlights” which represent the key moments during matches throughout the season. Each highlight can have up to two players assign their team members to it, and each one provides special benefits both to the players who assign their team members to it as well as whomever wins the match. In many ways, the game feels almost like a trick taking game, with each of your players having a numeric value that determines how effective they are at winning the particular trick/highlight, but the layers of special abilities events that are added to the cards safely prevent the game from being anywhere close to a typical trick taking game’s level of abstraction. The game is actually quite effective at getting across the feel of managing a team across a season, and while I am not that familiar with Blood Bowl, I am fairly familiar with various team sports, and the game effectively gets across the feel of a bloody and more vicious form of head to head sport with some parallels to American football.

Blood Bowl: Team Manager does feature some amount of deck building, in that up to five star players may be added to each players deck over the course of a game, but this deck building is relatively insignificant in the games overall mechanical whole and I would be skeptical of anyone categorizing it as a deck building game. Blood Bowl: Team Manager feels fairly innovative as a whole, but that may simply be because there aren’t any other card games out there quite like it. I have quite enjoyed it so far, and have played it 7 times in the past two weeks, and with six different teams and a plethora of acquirable special powers, I see the replay value as being pretty high. The game appears to have both variability and depth and I can see playing it a lot more even if it never gets an expansion.

Yomi


Yomi was released at the very beginning of 2011, and dominated my plays during that period. I have played it 87 times since my acquisition, and I still remain rather fascinated it, despite the kerfuffles regarding Dave Sirlin. At its basic level it is simply a variation of paper-rock-scissors, but the game adds so much more on top of that basic level that deeply engaging game play emerges.

Each card features an attack, a block, a dodge, or a throw, and each combination of these modes has different interactions with the others. In the case where identical offensive modes are used, then whoever is successful is determined by speed. The end result of most of these modes is damage to the opponent, though blocks serve as a way to avoid damage while replenishing your hand size, and in the case of a successful attack you can potentially set yourself up for a combo attack, which allows you to unleash a large amount of damage at the cost of depleting your hand. Each decision rewards an understanding of the capabilities of your own and your opponent’s deck and an ability to read patterns in your opponent’s behavior.

Each Yomi character features cards that match the numbering system and suits of a traditional deck of cards. While this is in no way required for the design, it is a helpful tool for both learning and structuring the game; low numbered cards end up being faster but weaker, while higher value ones end up being slower but stronger, and face cards feature special attacks or defenses that are unique to the character. The exact combination of modes featured on the cards varies based on the character used, and this differentiation creates an enticing variety of possible experiences across the available characters.

Eminent Domain


Eminent Domain is the third of the four big deck builders in 2011, but it is just as mechanically distinct from previous titles as the other deck builders on the list. Where many deck builders prior to 2011 built upon the basic structural model established by Dominion, Eminent Domain diverges significantly, combining features of Glory to Rome with some its own ideas in order to create its own, unique, experience.

Unlike most deck builders, which feature turns where a number of currencies in a range of quantities are generated by various cards in order to purchase further cards or victory points, Eminent Domain’s currencies are the cards themselves. There are six available roles, with each role’s strength is determined by the number of cards of that type that are in a player’s hand. As a player selects a role, then a card associated with that role is added to the player’s deck, meaning that a player’s deck is altered directly by their role selection choices rather than card purchases. The technology role breaks this rule slightly by allowing players to acquire distinct special power cards, but on the whole, how the deck building occurs is enough to separate Eminent Domain from the rest of the pack.

If I have one big complaint about Eminent Domain at this point it is that the lack of distinction between the majority of the cards, leaves the game a bit samey with slightly less room for creative play. At 15 plays I am largely done with the game, but I enjoyed those 15 plays, and I do greatly respect the design’s particularly unique takes on deck building.

Core Worlds


Core Worlds is the last of the big deck builders of 2011, and is just as unique feeling as the others. I only recently tried Core Worlds, with 5 plays over the course of 2 days, but I came away from the game with a grudging respect.

Core Worlds, like many deck building games, is focused on building an economic snowball. This snowball has three parts: energy, ground forces, and space forces. Each of these are acquired throughout the game, with ground forces and space forces used to conquer planets, which produce energy, which are used to purchase more ground forces and space forces. What allows Core Worlds to distinguish itself are the sorts of breaks that are placed on to the snowball. A limited, non-expandable pool of actions are used to limit what a player can do in a turn, and actions are required to purchase cards, add them to your tableau, or conquer a planet. Whenever you spend an action to acquire a planet, you are forced to discard cards that have strength, forcing you to both consider the cost for bringing them into play again as well as the negative impact on efficiency of reintroducing these cards into your deck. You are forced to make a lot of tough decisions regarding whether it is worth it to conquer a planet and thus deal with a non-streamlined deck that increases the risk you will not be able to deal with the hard to conquer worlds in the later or stages or risk not conquering it and thus get behind both in energy income and in victory points.

This tension is what really drives the game and what has kept me interested so far. Rather than having a pure economic snowball game, or having to deal with slight but required bouts of inefficiency, the games is filled with these decisions which can have a fairly dramatic effect on whether you do well or poorly. That being said, I have no idea if the decisions based around these tradeoffs will remain interesting to me in the long term, as historically pure snowball games have lost my interest once I figured them out. However, even if it does not work for me in the long term, it does have my attention for the time being.

Sentinels of the Multiverse


While The Lords of the Rings Card Game has been smashingly successful both critically and commercially, in the small realm of cooperative SPCG I have found the smaller and pluckier Sentinels of the Multiverse more effective at catching my attention.

Part of this is simply my greater interest in a game based on super heroes than one based on The Lords of the Rings, as super heroes are much less thoroughly explored theme. Another thing that I also greatly appreciate is the sheer modularity of the design. By having a large selection of heroes, villains, and environments, all of which are available to be used interchangeably, the game creates both interesting variation in how the component parts interact with each other and allows players to establish new challenges for themselves by specifically establishing situations that are suboptimal for the particular skill sets of the utilized heroes.

Sentinels is also structured very efficiently, with a fairly simple structure providing with a vast amount of different decisions based on the combination of various exceptions introduced by individual cards. This allows play to move along fairly swiftly even when dealing with fairly complex game state situations. However, the number of different modifiers, and situational effects can be overwhelming for those who are used to more constrained games. I find the nuance provided by this complexity to be thrilling whoever, and greatly appreciate how the game simulates various narrative states through information.

My enjoyment of Sentinels, which flies in the face of my normal disregard for cooperative games, actually has increased my curiosity about The Lords of the Rings Card Game. Perhaps my usual aversion to cooperative games blinded me to The Lords of the Rings Card Game’s strengths. Of course, I am not sure I really want more than a single short cooperative game, but I am much more willing to try it again than I was even a few months ago.

Conclusion
2011 was impressive not only in the number of different quality SPCG released but also in the sheer variety of their implementations. I do wonder if perhaps this year will represent the peak of these sorts of games. There do not seem to be that many coming out this year, and it may be that we will soon go back to the trickle of one or two good ones per year. I think I would largely be okay with that, despite my appreciation for this type of game, simply because of how much more there is to explore in each and every one of them. These card games are what really make 2011 a standout year for me, and I expect to be exploring many of them for years to come.


*I am not particularly fond of the terms AT and Euro because of their imprecision, but they are commonly accepted enough that I will continue to use them for the time being.
**The Top 20 Games of 2011 (excluding games that are effectively expansions or reimplementations and probably should not even be in the rankings):
Spoiler (click to reveal)
1) Eclipse (AT)
2) Ora et Labora (E)
3) Mage Knight (SPCG)
4) The Castles of Burgundy (E)
5) A Few Acres of Snow (SPCG)
6) The Lords of the Rings Card Game (SPCG)
7) Mansions of Madness (AT)
8) Trajan (E)
9) Blood Bowl – Team Manager (SPCG)
10) Dungeon Petz (E)
11) Risk Legacy (AT)
12) Letters to Whitechapel (E)
13) Yomi (SPCG)
14) Gears of War: The Board Game (AT)
15) Star Trek: Fleet Captains (AT)
16) Lancaster (E)
17) King of Tokyo (AT)
18) Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon (AT)
19) Flash Point: Fire Rescue (E)
20) Eminent Domain (SPCG)

Looking at the list, and the lists I compiled for previous years, the big loser appears to be wargames, for which there are no examples in the Top 20. This compares to at least 1 title from every other year since 2002. I suspect this may simply be due to the slow rising nature of wargames, however, and it would not surprise me if Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan and Space Empires 4X end up in the Top 20 of 2011 after some time spent building ratings.
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Fri May 11, 2012 5:13 pm
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Looking Forward Into 2012

Jesse Dean
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So with my review of 2011 out of the way, let’s go ahead and take a look forward into 2012.

Left Over From 2011
Thanks to some helpful input from commenters and friends I think I can safely remove both Trajan and The Castles of Burgundy from my list of games to acquire. Neither of them overcomes my biggest problems with Feld’s designs and are thus probably not worth playing. Similarly some pretty convincing arguments were made that I should check out Bios: Megafauna. I probably will at some point in the spring. I have enough new games to absorb and savor now that I would prefer to keep this one till later. I also tend to delve a bit more into Dungeon Petz and Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan and will probably be discussing both here. I may do a review for Dungeon Petz but that is only if I can find something new to say about it. Ora et Labora is at Coolstuff and I plan to pick it up tonight. I will probably be playing it as much as I possibly can, assuming I can successfully sell it to everyone around me. The main reason I have been able to clock in 26 plays of Mage Knight since November is its popularity in the local play group. If I can build a group that is similarly receptive to Ora et Labora I will be a happy man.

On the Review Docket
In the near future I will be playing and discussing both Mob Ties: The Board Game and The Manhattan Project. Mob Ties is a game I was not previously interested in but the publisher sent me a review copy to take a look at even after I warned him that I am not normally into games focused on negotiation games. His willingness to do so is pretty exemplary and deserves kudos so I am going to give the game a fair shake and see what happens.

The Manhattan Project is a game I Kickstarted, but will be sent an early copy for review so I am pretty excited about it. While I do not think it will be a game I love quite as much as Ora et Labora, Agricola, or Caylus it looks like it will still be a pretty strong worker placement and will likely be at the top of the second tier of worker placement games. It is rather unique both thematically and mechanically and I think those combination of factors should be enough that it is worth owning, particularly if the theme appeals to you or you are fond of worker placement games.

Upcoming in 2012
Its still early and I am sure there are going to be a bunch of new games coming out this year that will catch me by surprise, but I already have a few that I am looking forward to pretty seriously.

CO₂ has the combination of striking graphic design, a unique theme, and Vital Lacerda as the designer. Together these are enough to catch my interest, and I am looking forward to see what this design has to offer. Knowing Vital it will be a pretty hard-core eurogame which should appeal to at least some of the readers of this blog.

Kanban: Automotive Revolution, about managing an automatic factory, is also by Vital Lacerda and even though I am not quite as excited about it as I am about CO2, it still looks like it will be worth checking out. Other factory management games have not quite worked for me before so hopefully this one has enough interesting things going on to make it worth my attention.

The Great Zimbabwe is the latest Splotter game and that alone deserves some attention, but its description is also pretty exciting:
“The Great Zimbabwe is a logistico-economic game in which players are tribal leaders in Africa trying to please the gods by building monuments.

Buying technology, building craftsmen, gathering resources, and worshipping a god are among the many decisions necessary to win in The Great Zimbabwe. But the main way of getting there is building and developing a network of monuments. The higher the monuments, the closer the players will be to victory. But player must balance many subtle aspects of the game. If they develop their economy, if they worship a powerful god, if they use a lot of technology, they will need to score more victory points.

Clever use of turn-order manipulation, economic development in an almost close environment, scarce natural resource use and logistical optimization to deliver goods from craftsmen to monuments: you only get one action per turn, so be smart! The Great Zimbabwe is a race for victory in which you decide how far you want to go and at what speed. Then other players' decisions change everything...”

Indonesia is the only Splotter game that has really stood the test of time for me, but I have high hopes that this will also meet my tastes.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers is Uwe Rosenberg’s upcoming title, and while I am pretty excited about the fact that it seems to be him back to doing the sort of resource conversion titles that he does best, I suspect he will not be able to top Ora et Labora for me. Still, this one sounds unique enough that it will probably be worth checking out and will likely be a solid second tier worker placement title.

1989: Dawn of Freedom is an item that I have on pre-order but I admit my enthusiasm is cooling and I may even cancel the pre-order. This is not due to any particular belief that the game will be poor but simply my playing habits have shifted enough that I get few opportunities to play these grand card-driven strategy games anymore so I am not sure how often I will get to play it. I may just get it to hold on to until I get opportunities to play them again though, so we will see what happens.

I am also looking forward to Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts but not overwhelmingly. I am pretty happy with the base game + the first three expansions, and while I am sure Alien Artifacts will be fun I am not sure I really need more. This will not stop be from buying it, of course, but it is stopping me from caring all that much about when it arrives.

Goals
Personally I want to continue the trend of 2011 in playing a smaller number of total games but playing them a lot more. I got to enjoy some really in-depth exploration of 18XX games in early 2010 and while I do not intend to revisit that particular rabbit hole in the near future, I do have a lot of longer games, both new and old, that I would like to explore in-depth.

I plan to continue being active on my blog even as the rush of new games slows to a crawl instead I will focus more on new thoughts on the games I am playing as well as more general topics. Once late summer hits, I will start doing pre-release perspective articles, will write my “Gamer’s Games of 2012” geeklist and will then due a lot of the same sort of things on my blog that I did in 2011: first impressions, reviews, and general discussion.

Is there anything you would like to see out of my blog? Any games coming out that I should be keeping an eye on? What are you looking forward to?
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Fri Jan 6, 2012 7:04 pm
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2011 In Review: Part Four (“The Best”)

Jesse Dean
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(Most Of) My Top 10 For 2011
I still have some games from 2011 to play (most notably Mob Ties, courtesy of the publisher, and Sekigahara, courtesy of my wallet) but at this point I feel comfortable determining what nine of my Top 10 games of 2011 are. I suspect that if Sekigahara and Mob Ties fail to meet my needs that Dungeon Petz will fill in the #10 spot, as my second play of it yesterday increased my appreciation of the game’s potential.

9. Eclipse

Originally I intended for this post to be made up just of games that I rated an 8 or higher. Unfortunately, in the process of playing and reviewing Eclipse last week, I ended up deciding my actual rating for the game was a 7. It is probably the best of the games I rated a 7, though so it is perhaps not too out of place here.
Eclipse is a pretty good grand strategy game that does an excellent job of conveying the overall look and feel of a space 4X game in a pretty reasonable play time. The decisions are delightfully tough and the game does a lot of things right. I am concerned about both the implications of the available missile technology on the game and the fragility of initial exploration draws, but neither of these are sufficient to make me think the game itself is not worth playing, I intend to play it quite a bit and will probably get it on to the table again on Wednesday, simply that it is not as effective in fitting my grand strategic needs as Colonial, Space Empires 4X, and Warriors & Traders. If you want to read more I have a review here: A Total Eclipse of the Grand Strategy Genre?

8. MIL (1049)

Though the rules overload on MIL (1049) is a bit high, once you can get past that MIL is quite a game. The game has two phases, in the first you perform mostly resource buildings actions that require the use of time counters to indicate the passing of time and its effects on your extended family; after a certain number of counters are added to the knight he dies and his heir, if any, takes over the family lands. As you do so it reveals access to more powerful actions in the “spheres of power” that allow you to convert your resources into victory points and directly interact with other players. The decisions involved in which “spheres of power” to select with your knights, and when to transition from the resource generation actions to the “sphere of power” actions are both fairly entertaining particularly with how the game simulates the vassal-lord relationship that was so important during this part of the middle ages. I have only played MIL (1049) once am looking forward to it getting a wider release so I can get a copy and explore this one in more detail.

7. Warriors & Traders

Warriors & Traders would not have been on the list if I had written it before today so, much like Dungeon Petz, its position is very tentative. Essentially Warriors & Traders is a very eurofied vision of the grand strategy genre, with no luck and plenty of resource management, but enough consideration for political control and the maintenance and movement of armies to still fit within the overall mold. The game is incredibly tight, with only 20-25 actions devoted to building one’s position in a typical game, and one of the primary goals of any player should be to get into a position where they can get as many additional actions as possible. One of the biggest ways to do this is to perform a country unification; each player starts controlling the capital of one of the major countries of the era and by seizing a core set of provinces of that country, and a few disputed ones on top of that, a player is able to get a number of bonus actions related to the final size of the country. Advancing along the tech trees also gives opportunities for bonus actions, but the difficulty in climbing is such that I remain uncertain how frequently and effective these actions are compared to other opportunities as the tech tree, in of itself, does not give victory points unless you are the farthest along it; the temptation seems great, particularly later in the game, to stop advancing in order to seize territory. The game also does a pretty good job of providing an effective array of strategic options. Gaining and holding territory will likely be the source of the bulk of player points, but eliminating enemy units, building fortresses, and converting gold into victory points are all options. Still the whole seemed to be pretty solid. I need to explore this one more to see how the various options really weigh against each other and if expressed concerns about the static turn order are legitimate, but I see a lot of promise for this one to provide a fast, interesting grand strategy experience.

6. Yomi

Yomi was both the first and the most played of the new games I tried out in 2011 and it is the only new complex card game that I encountered this year that will remain in my collection into 2012. I was never a huge fan of the fighting video games that Yomi emulates, but the game play is enjoyable enough to keep me coming back. The game has been compared to a glorified form of Paper, Rock, Scissors and that is not completely unfair, but the vagaries of hand management, special abilities, and the unique characteristics of each character are sufficient to give this one plenty of replay value. I bought a Complete Edition and do not regret it. At less than a dollar a play just for 2011, how could I?

5. Colonial: Europe's Empires Overseas

Colonial intoxicated me from the moment I first read its rulebook, providing the promise a game of colonization and exploration that more effectively included all of the essential elements than any of the other options currently on the market. It meets that promise fairly effectively too, with plenty of potential for alternative strategies based on exploration, conquest, colonization and development. The early experience of playing Colonial was such that I suspected that it might end up being my top game of 2011. That did not end up being the case for two reasons: 1) 2011 had not yet finished showing me all of the great games it had to offer and 2) the continuing fluctuation of the rules. I have not played Colonial since November because of the flux that the rules are currently in. Assuming things are settled with a definitive rules set in the near future, and that the final rules are good this game has the potential to rise on my final list. Until then, 5th for the year seems about right.

4. Space Empires: 4X

When I first read about Space Empires 4X I admit that the news that you would use paper to track your purchases and technologies seemed so antiquitated that it was almost enough to stop me from purchasing the game. Fortunately I was able to overcome my initial biases because Space Empires itself ended up being a pretty cool wargame in space, taking a very minimalistic approach to the exploration and production aspects of the game in order to make it so the meat of the game, gigantic ship battles were particularly fun and engaging. Unfortunately the game suffers a bit from game length issues, and I think I have reached the point where I would generally prefer to play this only with two. If playing with more I would chose Eclipse even though I prefer Space Empire 4X’s design, Eclipse simply manages more players more effectively. You can read my review here: GMT's Foray Into Space 4X Games.

3. Vanuatu
 

Vanuatu is the most brutal new Euro I played this year, where players are in a constantly shifting dance to both ensure that the other players are unable to get what they want while also being in a position such that it is not in anyone else’s interest to counter you. Effortlessly moving through the game denying other people their goals while also effortlessly advancing your own is the ideal, but in practice you have those nasty and evil people known as the other players who are working just as hard to accomplish the same thing, making the game the sort of constant and brutal struggle for supremacy that makes for the best gamer’s games. I have not written a review of Vanuatu, but a lady in my group has and you can see her review here: A Review Vanuatu - a game of strategy and screw 'em over!

My Best Game of 2011

Normally I don’t have this much difficulty picking out what I see as the best game of a given year. In 2010 Dominant Species was an easy choice and in 2009 it was Hansa Teutonica. Earlier years are similarly obvious either because there was only one game released that year that I considered good or because there was simply one game that stood out compared to all other competitors. The only other year that this was an issue was 2007, where Agricola and Race For the Galaxy both vied for my affections. At various points one or the other has been my #1 game, currently it is Race For the Galaxy, and I suspect that their relative position will change again someday. I am stuck in a similar position in 2011 deciding between two outstanding but very different designs that are both exceptional games in an exceptional year: Mage Knight Board Game and Ora et Labora.

Mage Knight the Board Game is the more innovative of the two, combining deck building and fantasy adventure gaming, both of which I am normally indifferent to, into a game with incredible depth and replayability that is more than the sum of its parts. I have played it 25 times since late November, and while it is doubtless that rate will go down with time as familiarity and a desire to play all these other games pulls me away from Mage Knight, I have no doubt that it will continue to receive a good amount of plays in 2012. In fact, it was the first game I played in 2012. It is good enough that it has caused me to reevaluate my previous indifference to Vlaada Chavatil’s designs. Where I previously looked at most of his releases with a bit of calculated indifferences this and Dungeon Petz is sufficiently good that I will have to pay more attention to his releases in the future. If he can produce a masterpiece like Mage Knight, then it would be a mistake to ignore his future works.

Where Mage Knight the Board Game impressed me by its ability to push forward the boundaries of current game design, Ora et Labora impressed me with the mastery it represented. While it is well within the bounds of the design style displayed in Rosenberg’s previous great designs, Agricola, Farmer of the Moor, and Le Havre, it is clear that Rosenberg has taken what he has learned with these designs and pushed it even farther, producing an effortless blend that is quite possibly the best worker placement/resource conversion game produced to date. At the very least it has convinced me that nobody makes these games quite like him, and that will be very difficult for any other game of this style to compare any time in the near future. How can I be interested in the worker placement/resource conversion games of any other designer when Rosenberg does it so, so well?

So this is the dilemma that I currently am grappling with. Mage Knight and Ora et Labora, my third and fourth 10s, must be chosen between. I could buck responsibility and just declare a tie, but I will not and instead declare Ora et Labora my Top Game of 2011. My enjoyment of Ora et Labora and its decision space, suffused as it is with nostalgia for previous Rosenberg designs, is sufficient to push this one slightly over Mage Knight the Board Game. Congratulations Ora, you are an amazing game and you deserve every bit of praise that will be awarded to you with your impending release.

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Tue Jan 3, 2012 8:59 pm
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