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The Lentils

It's that time of year when everyone, including me, starts reflecting on the past year while making plans for the next one.

I've always thought that most gaming awards were pretty stupid. One guy, Tom, liked a game. Now the publisher can slap a "seal of excellence" on the box. Another couple of guys decided a game was the best game of the year. Another publisher now uses an elephant in their advertising.

I could find faults with most major and minor awards in our hobby.

Which is why I'm starting my own award! Welcome to the 2020 Lentils. These are the Top 10 new-to-me games that I loved in 2020. Like the humble lentil, each one of these games is affordable, satisfying, and good for you. I thought about naming different sub-awards after various lentil dishes, then writing about how the game shared characteristics with the lentils, but then I regained my sanity.

1. Traditional Card Games
2p - Haggis (1 play)
3p - Boon (Sheepshead) (1 play)
4p - Hearts (3 plays)
5p - Vivaldi (1 play)

I'm a little bit embarrassed that my play count on these is so low. In my defense, I was playing a lot of new-to-me games which prevented me from the repeat plays that I would have liked. Well, and also, I was playing Babylonia when I could (see below).

I only played Haggis for the first time yesterday. I already knew that I was inclined to like it. A lot of people that I like here on BGG like Haggis. I had played Tichu near the end of last year and liked Tichu. So, a 2p version of Tichu that I could get played at home? Sounds good to me. And it lived up to its reputation. I especially loved the way that bombs worked, that you are sometimes sacrificing many points to your opponent in order to stay lead player to control the pace and type of cards that get played. I played it with my 14yo. After we were finished, she said, "That's a really good game," which she doesn't just say about any game. She then played it again immediately with her 10yo sister while I went about making a late supper.

(Full disclaimer: I've interacted a lot here on BGG with the designer of Haggis in the past year. I have warm fuzzy friendly feelings towards him, liking and respecting him both as a person and as a designer. How is that for a simple admission of bias? Good enough? That said, I do think that I'm still objective enough to be honest in my assessment and be able to state publicly that I didn't like his game or was disappointed or whatever. But I did like his game and I am being honest in saying that it was one of the ten best games that I played this year.) The only 2p card game I liked more than it is on this list below.

Boon (Sheepshead with an upgraded card design) also only saw one play, but it was one of my favorite sessions of the year, a rare 3p game with me, Abigail, and our oldest daughter. There was lots of trash talk and I remember losing spectacularly, but checking the scores now, my daughter did even worse than I did. At 3p, there's a lot of skill involved. Part of me wants to try it 5p and part of me is satisfied with the 5p options I already have, with Boon being the best 3p trick-taking option that I've found (sorry, Skat). We played with basic zero-sum scoring rules. I do need to at least figure out how to double a bump and crack stuff. I should also probably try to become comfortable playing this and teaching it with a standard deck. I think I'm ready for that, but do I really teach my kids to play a game that no one else will ever play with them unless they move to Wisconsin?

If I were ranking this list more traditionally as a #1-#10 list, Hearts would probably be #1, not only of the traditional card games, but of any game I've played all year. Only 3 plays, but they were among my favorite sessions of the year. Sending hearts (and the queen of spades) to someone who has to take them is pretty delicious, and the possibility of doubling down on winning 'bad' cards, then 'shooting the moon' is one of the best things ever.

At 5p, it's Vivaldi. What a great game. The simplified scoring and addition of the pain suit are just brilliant, as well as the emerging partnerships that really elevates the game.

2. Knizias
Babylonia (21 plays)
High Society (10 plays)
Schotten Totten (11 plays; 2 plays previously in '16)

Babylonia was easily my "Board Game of the Year" if I were to exclude all card games. Nothing else came close. It was a weak year for me in terms of new-to-me board games (as opposed to card games). Not getting to go to public game nights meant that I tried a lot less Euros and a lot less train games. It's probably a good thing that I was stuck home with my family because they all also like Babylonia. I'm not sure how Babylonia would have gone over at game night. I did get to introduce it to Jake on the one rare occasion that we saw each other at the end of the summer, but that was 2p. I think that Kevin would have liked it alright, but not loved it. I can never guess what Madden will think. I could see him going either way, either loving the meanness and openness of it or feeling 'meh' about it because it's too abstract. Anyhow, Babylonia was a hit at home. Only 79 more plays to my century.

The best thing about High Society is the "bid the most without going over" element that shapes the entire game. You want to spend to get stuff, but if you spend more than everyone else, you're so embarrassed that you're automatically disqualified from the prestige of the win. This, with the player-driven values, makes for an always tense game with simple yet important decisions every turn. Like Babylonia, High Society plays great at its entire player count range, which is a rare thing to achieve, especially in a card game like this.

Schotten Totten is a bit of a cheat. I played it twice in 2016, but those plays were with the tactics cards and I screwed up the tactics card rules. It's maybe unfair, but I hate those extra cards. Fast forward to this year, when I played the basic version for the first time. It is a better game without the tactics cards. I think it's a different enough game without them to be a new-to-me game this year. The tactics cards added in too much wildness and uncertainty, something that I sometimes like, but didn't like here. Without them, the game becomes about card counting (keeping an eye on what your opponent is playing and may play), risk management (when and where to play certain cards), and an element of bluffing (playing in such a way that your opponent thinks that you may be holding on to an important card that you really don't have). Schotten Totten is my favorite 2p card game of 2020.

3. Buttons
Adder (18 plays)
Fliptricks (30 plays)

I canceled my Button Shy subscription because I'm trying to limit all incoming games, because I wasn't playing Personal Space, because I was behind on playing a few of the games from the last shipment, etc. I don't regret canceling it, but I will miss getting surprise little games like these. You could play either one of these at home right now with some extra playing cards from your 88c deck, marked up with a permanent marker. Fliptricks is on pnparcade. I'm not sure why Adder isn't, but I did just see that BS is releasing a wallet-sized new version soon that plays up to 4 players.

Anyhow, these are both ridiculously stupid (in the best way) dexterity card games. In Adder, you are using cards to "snake" your way across the table to attack your opponent. In Fliptricks, your single card is your skateboard that you do awesome (well, they're supposed to be awesome when you don't break your board!) tricks with. Highly recommended, especially if you have kids to play with.

4. Word Games
Movable Type (3 plays)

Movable Type is probably the best argument for me to stop buying games and just let games come to me however they will. I tried to stop spending money on games this year. I still spent a lot of money on games this year. I did not spend any money on Movable Type. Sam sent me a copy after I made a casual statement somewhere about how I was not at all familiar with any recent word games. Thanks again, Sam. What I love about Movable Type is that there is no real scoring. I mean, there is, but each round's scoring just gets you cards that you tuck away to build a final word. The game is won or lost on that final word. So, each round is fun, but there is also a sense of progression, building towards a satisfying climax, usually coupled with plenty of laughter, because words are wonderful.


------

That's 10 games. I might make a separate post naming some honorable mentions, but these are the 10 that get the Lentil.

Congratulations to everyone who has won a 2020 Lentil Award. Thank you to all of the designers and publishers who worked hard on these games, especially Uncredited's work on Hearts. I don't know how you do it century after century, Uncredited.

Seriously, my year was better for having played all of these games. Thank you.


-----

Please forgive my flatulent indulging of my own tastes and priorities. But, hey, if any of you want to stick a Lentil on the next reprint of your game, let's talk.

-----

Fernando Notario wrote:
lentils were perhaps the most significant foodstuffs in the performance of the Cynic life.
Montaigne wrote:
In the midst of a discussion, and in the presence of his followers, Metrocles let off a fart. To hide his embarrassment he stayed at home until, eventually, Crates came to pay him a visit; to his consolations and arguments Crates added the example of his own licence: he began a farting match with him, thereby removing his scruples and, into the bargain, converting him to the freer stoic school from the more socially oriented Peripatetics whom he had formerly followed.
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Wed Dec 9, 2020 11:41 am
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The Worst 2019

I guess I'll do the negativity thing this year.

Bottom 10 Games of 2019
1. Blue Lagoon
2. Dungeon Derby
3. Gold Digger
4. Cooper Island
5. The Dragon & Flagon
6. Pickomino
7. Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City
8. Champions of Midgard
9. The North
10. Tapestry

That's right. 3 Knizias on the list. I must be the worst fanboy ever.

Blue Lagoon was my biggest disappointment. Knizia doing point salad is still point salad. I don't even know if it's the multiple ways to score that bothers me the most. I'm actually looking forward to that in Babylonia (my copy just arrived and a read-through of the rules has me feeling very positive). I hate the scorepad. I'm not a fan of endgame scorepads. Give me a clear win condition or a VP track. None of this scorepad crap. I also hate the reset halfway through the game. It makes for a very dissatisfying "narrative arc", more artificial, less organic.

I don't even remember much about Dungeon Derby. I remember that it irritated me. Betting and lack of control with stupid cards.

Gold Digger is another Knizia. Since it's just him tweaking trad card game rules, I don't mind it, but it was still disappointing in how simple it was.

I've already ranted elsewhere about Cooper Island. Jake's probably right that I may have tolerated it more (maybe even enjoyed it a little) under other circumstances. I might have enjoyed its puzzle a little more. As it happened, it was the euro that broke this gamer's patience this year.

The Dragon & Flagon was far too procedural to capture and reflect the chaos that it so badly wants.

Pickomino is for kids only. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City is pretty much the same game as Machi Koro. After playing Space Base, I was reminded of MK and wanted to give it another chance. I don't want to play MK ever again. I think that Space Base is a decent game. The difference is I the "take that" of MK, which just makes the game drag on too long and takes away from the enjoyment of the rising action of building stuff. I won my play of this, and it did feel good spending the last three turns demanding that everyone give me all of their money, but, really, it was still a lame kind of satisfaction.

Champions of Midgard had too much push your luck in a game that is otherwise all dry euro.

The North is such a great idea. But it turns out that I don't like it when remembering what is on the front AND back of all of your cards just becomes a memory game. I still like a lot about this game and would be happy to try other games from this designer.

Tapestry was fine, but that's really its problem. It is just fine, a mediocre game blinged out. It has no real narrative energy or power of its own, leaving a lukewarm feeling in its wake. I defended it a bit the night we played it, but the truth is that I don't want to ever play it again.
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Sat Dec 14, 2019 5:05 pm
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All Things New 2019 - "The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up." -GKC

84. Eighty-four.

That's how many new-to-me games I've played this year (as of Dec. 13th). That's out of 145 unique games played. About 58%.

I've come to terms with the fact that I like playing new games. I want to dig deep into the games I love, but I do feel the desire for the Next Thing.

We live in a lovely world of abundance. I've played 84 new-to-me games and feel like an amateur board game enthusiast who hardly even made an effort to keep up with the new and shiny. So many good and enjoyable things in the world.

It was most often the case that I was underwhelmed by new games. So what? I enjoyed the exploration.

I'd like to say that I'm going to slow down next year, play more old favorites rather than so many new things.

I am going to try to lean in that direction, but… Everyone else in my game group has games in their collection that they'd love to play that I haven't played yet. I shouldn't deny them or myself that pleasure.

I am going to try to lean into old favorites, but… my basement "shelf of shame" has a couple dozen unplayed games on it.

I'll keep playing new games. Because playing new games is the only way to find new favorites.

And I did find new favorites in 2019 (which will now become the old favorites that I'll try to favor over the new shiny in 2020!).

Top Ten New-to-Me Games Played in 2019
1. Pax Pamir 2e
2. Bus
3. Irish Gauge
4. Circle the Wagons
5. Push It
6. In Vino Morte
7. 1846
8. Xiangqi
9. Mutant Crawl Classics
10. Hellapagos

I'm pretty sure I've already done a halfway decent job making known my love for Pamir 2e, Bus, and Irish Gauge. Those are the Games of the Year.

Push It was featured heavily in my Mancation report.

What about the rest?

Circle the Wagons and In Vino Morte may be getting a bump due to recency bias. I've played both of them for the first time within the last week. IVM is a perfect family party game. It plays lightning fast and is a laughter generating machine. CtW is a perfect, quick "school night" evening 2 player game with enough depth of decisions to keep me coming back for more. It scores extra points because Abigail liked it. I'd like to rope her back into some more regular gaming with me. I think Circle the Wagons might be the tool for that job.

I'm so impressed with Button Shy right now that I signed up to support them at the $20/month level on Patreon. I'm going to commit to supporting them for the next year. I'll give regular updates on whatever goodies I get sent in the mail from them.

I'm still on the fence regarding 1846. I think I love it. I actually sold my copy because both Kevin and Jake have copies. My daughters will play anything, but I just didn't see ever having the time to play this at home without constant interruptions. If it's only going to get played at game night and two others have copies, then I don't need one. I liked the game very much, but I need to play it again a few more times to see if we can really get the playtime down. I'd be willing to commit to playing this once a month in 2020. We should schedule some once a month non-Tuesday gaming.

Xiangqi isn't quite as delightful a surprise as Shogi was last year, but I'm still fascinated by it and hope to explore it much more.

I almost didn't put Mutant Crawl Classics on the list. Oh, I love it, but it's essentially the same game as DCC with a different skin. It made it on the list because I just couldn't ignore it.

I could have picked a few games for the 10 spot. I picked Hellapagos because it makes me laugh more than any of the other choices. Almost every other week Madden will say something about the time I shot Melanie in the head after she asked if anyone at the table would trade her anything for the bullet she had. It's my all-time favorite cooperative game. ;-p

Edit: addendum:
Play stats for the Top Ten New-to-Me:
1. Pax Pamir 2e (8 plays)
2. Bus (3 plays)
3. Irish Gauge (3 plays)
4. Circle the Wagons (3 plays)
5. Push It (17 plays)
6. In Vino Morte (4 plays)
7. 1846 (1 play)
8. Xiangqi (2 plays)
9. Mutant Crawl Classics (1 play)
10. Hellapagos (4 plays)
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Fri Dec 13, 2019 8:16 pm
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All Things New 2018 "It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play." -GKC

This morning, I read Matt Thrower's post about not making lists. It made me want to make a list. There will never be a year in which I will make a top ten list of that year's games. I have played 11 2018 games. If I made a top ten list, I'd have to pick ten of those eleven. That's silly. What I can do, and what I like to do, is make a list of the best new-to-me games, games from any year, which I played for the first time in 2018.


Top Ten New-to-Me Games Played in 2018
1. Shogi
2. Dungeon Crawl Classics
3. Root
4. KeyForge: Call of the Archons
5. Great Western Trail
6. Blood Rage
7. Meltwater: A Game of Tactical Starvation
8. Transatlantic
9. Meow
10. Fort Sumter: The Secession Crisis, 1860-1861

Shogi is one of the greats. I've known about it for a long while. I've read about it. I had played children's introductory versions. I had messed around with digital versions. But I hadn't actually played it face-to-face (which is the only way that counts). It's up there with Go/Baduk and Chess as one of the games that I consider perfect. What is especially fun about it, though, compared to western chess is that I don't know the first thing about it. I get the basic rules, of course, but "good play" is something that I'll be exploring for the rest of my life.

Dungeon Crawl Classics takes everything that I love about role-playing and does it right. It emphasizes all of the right things, with rules that encourage wild role-playing and discourage min-maxing and power gaming. When I'm playing an RPG, I want wild stories. I'm not playing to win. I'm playing to laugh and to get that thrill of wonder at grand heroics writ large. DCC satisfies.

I really like player asymmetry. I really like direct player interaction. Root delivers the combination of asymmetry and direct player interaction better than any other game I know (Chaos in the Old World is the other game that I played this year which does this well, but that one didn't also charm me with its cuteness).

KeyForge is every bit as good a game as everyone is saying it is. What is a "good game"? Well, for starters, it has to be fun. Shogi is brain-burning fun. It activates that deep, slow center of thought. DCC is gut-busting fun, scratching the story itch. Root is the fun of playing the players as much as playing the game. KeyForge is the specific fun of the card game, in which you are at the mercy of the shuffle. It can be very swingy, in which you think you're about to make the greatest power move of all time, to be followed by your opponent undermining and destroying you the next turn. I was there at the beginning of Magic. I remember being 14 years old in '93 and opening starter decks and playing right out of the box with a mix of cards and lands that worked terribly together. I remember the thrill of slowly crafting that mess into something that works better. KeyForge gives that initial thrill of playing with what you're given, and also delivers that thrill of discovery in learning cards and how they work best together.

Great Western Trail doesn't have any of the dramatic swinginess of KeyForge. What it does have is the steady rhythm of the trail, that circle of satisfaction. Great Western Trail is, despite its somewhat complex interlocking systems, a very simple game, in which you move and take an action or two, do it again, do it again, deliver cows, do it again, do it again. I find the game very relaxing. I won't be telling stories about the wild times running cattle, but while playing I experience that peace that playing a well-constructed closed system can give.

Why do I love Blood Rage? It's probably the minis. There's a good game beneath the pretty, but really it's the joy of playing with toys. This is a satisfying "dudes on a map" game for grown boys. I enjoy the drafting, and think that there are serious decisions to be made, but mostly it's about fighting other vikings. I just spent too much money on the recent Kickstarter. I might regret it. I did only play Blood Rage once. Maybe its shine will wear off. So maybe this little boy infatuation won't last, but I also feel pretty confident that I can sell the KS exclusive content to make my money back (and a little more) if I no longer want it.

Meltwater is a game that I bought after reading the designer's notes on the Hollandspiele blog. It was obvious that a lot of thought had gone into the theme and the design. After playing the game, I was happy to find that the design is a complete success. It's rare that a game can meld theme and mechanisms so well. But each rule is in place to serve the theme. The claustrophobia of a shrinking world is truly felt. The gameplay is good, and it also allows for emergent storytelling. Those poor Swedish scientists.

Transatlantic might be my new favorite Gerdts game. It takes what is good about Concordia and layers on a wonderful racing theme with direct and indirect player confrontation. I do like some Euros in which everyone does their own thing on their own boards, but really I love the interaction, in which something I do affects you, and something you do affects me.

Meow is stupid. It's also a brilliant design. On your turn, draw a card and say, "meow." That's it. There's one other rule added to this that actually makes it a game, but mostly it's the silliness of meow-bluffing. This stupid game made me smile and laugh a lot. That's a successful game. This one, more than any of the others on the list, is very group-dependent (having little kids present is a definite plus), and shouldn't be played more than a couple of times in a session or it outwears its welcome. With those caveats, I highly recommend Meow as the light "experience/party game" that it is.

I played Fort Sumter five times in a row one day. I haven't played it since. I do really like it, but I'm not sure about it. It's an abstract historical game, if that seeming contradiction of a description can be used. The historical theme is there. It's not detailed, but playing the game will give someone a sense of the issues at stake that led up to the war. In play, though, what matters isn't the history, but matching colors and symbols, exerting influence on the board through mechanisms. I greatly enjoyed my play, but I don't know how often I'll get this played. I've been meaning to teach one of my older children how to play this one to see if I can get this one played at home.

That's it. So far this year, I've played 61 games that have been new to me. This list above represents what I think was the best of that bunch. It's only December 10th, so I know that this list is premature. There are still 20 days left in which I could play something new to me which completely blows me away. It's possible. If I am surprised by something, I'll update this post, but right now I'm thinking that that will be unlikely.
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Tue Dec 11, 2018 9:57 pm
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