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QWERTYmartin's Unabridged Insights On Play

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New to me July 2017

Martin G
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Wibbell - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2017


Wibbell++ is a new game system consisting of a deck of cards each marked with two different letters of the alphabet. So far I've only played Wibbell, but the deck comes with rules for 5 games and many more are to follow on a dedicated website.

Wibbell itself is a speed wordgame with a clever catch-up mechanism. At first two cards are turned face up, and the first person to shout a word which includes a letter from each card gets to take one of them. The central card is replaced and the process repeated. But now the player with a card in front of them has to come up with a word containing a letter from all three cards, while everyone else still only has to use the two central ones. So the better you do, the harder your task becomes. Fun!

Santo Domingo - 2 plays -  6 
First Published 2017


Santo Domingo is a very simple simultaneous-selection double-think game - kind of a microgame version of Havana or Libertalia. Not bad, despite the thoroughly underwhelming setting and art.

13 Minutes: The Cuban Missile Crisis - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2017



I wasn't sure about 13 Minutes: The Cuban Missile Crisis. 13 Days was already highly abstracted and I think this microgame version might go too far for me. Seems like it could be interesting if both players knew the cards, but I think I'd rather play Khmer or Hanamikoji than put that effort in.

Honshu - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2016


Honshu didn't particularly impress. It's billed as a spatial trick-taker but, like Pi Mal Pflaumen, it's closer to an auction, and a slightly limp one at that since there isn't much differentiation between the items bid on. The individual puzzle part of it is quite neat though - 'patching' cards over and under each other to build a city.

W1815 - 2 plays -  5 
First Published 2015


I thought I was going to like the highly-abstracted 15-minute wargame W1815, but I didn't really. I'm sure it's clever if you know anything about the battle it's simulating (Waterloo) but I don't, and am not really interested in learning.
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Wed Aug 2, 2017 12:03 pm
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A Kickstarter worth backing

Martin G
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A few years ago I read the wonderful book The Well-played Game: a Player's Philosophy by 'guru of play' Bernard de Koven and was inspired to write this blogpost: Playing to win or playing to play?. It (along with the discussion it generated) is one of my favourite contributions to BGG. Bernie happened upon the post too and we had a follow-up email discussion that I still treasure.

Today I learned that Bernie has been diagnosed with lung cancer and has only months to live. His typically inspiring announcement is here.

Quote:
If you want to do something for me or because of me, grieving is not what I need. What I need is for you to continue your play/work however you can. Play games. Play the kind of games I like to teach - you know, those "funny games" - harmlessly intimate, vaguely physical games of the semi-planned, spontaneous, just-for-fun ilk, basically without equipment, or goal, or score or reason, even.

Teach those games to everyone. Play them outside, these games. In public. With friends. And strangers. As many as want to play with you.

Make up your own games. Make them up together with the people who play them. Play. Teach. Invent. Play some more.

Also especially - look into this playfulness thing too. Deeply. Because we're not talking just games here. We're talking about how you can let yourself be as playful as you've always been, how you can be playful almost anywhere with almost anyone, how you can invite people to be playful with you, in school and office and in the checkout line: all kinds of people with all kinds of abilities from all kinds of backgrounds.


In his last months, Bernie is working on a legacy project - a game, of course - and it's now up on Kickstarter.

Quote:
We’re going to make a game together. A game about legacy, evoking what it means to pass something on to someone else. And a game as a small legacy of our conversations.

Brilliantly, beautifully, we don’t know what the game will be just yet. As you never do, until you start making it. But perhaps, if you like, you can imagine receiving a parcel in the post, and opening it up, without knowing just what you will find inside.


I can't think of a more fitting tribute.
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Tue Jul 4, 2017 10:12 am
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New to me June 2017

Martin G
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Another nice month of new games - I enjoyed all of these.

Montage - 2 plays -  8 
First Published 1973


Having been impressed by Joli Quentin Kansil's What's My Word? I was keen to try his other 70s word game and got a copy on sale.

It's a partnership game in which you are trying to communicate a word to your partner by giving a clue up to 5 words long, hoping your opponents won't guess it first. But you don't get given the word on a card, you have to come up with one that fits on the crossword-grid board. And on the grid, letters aren't shown directly but represented by five colours which each correspond to a group of 5 or 6 different letters. Successfully guessing words lets you fill the space on the grid with your team's chips, with the winners being determined by area control.

As if all that wasn't enough, the whole process of a turn (selecting a spot, choosing a word that fits, cluing and guessing) must be done within a minute and as soon as that is over, the next turn starts! It makes for a unique rush of frantic creativity. Also neat that it has elements of both word game (where meaning matters, like Codenames) and letter game (where it doesn't, like Scrabble).

Cobras - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2017


Everyone who knows me knows I love a trick-taker with a twist. This one also has a great thematic premise in the 'cobra effect': to reduce snake numbers, the authorities offer a payment for each dead cobra turned in. But this encourages the locals to breed cobras to claim the payment, which works fine until the authorities find out and cancel the payments.

In the game, you acquire cobra tokens each time you lose a trick and turn them in when you win one. The scoring schedule gives increasingly good rewards for turning in up to 7 cobras at a time but punishes you hard if you overshoot and even worse if you still have them at the end of a hand. So it's a game of timing when to lose and when to win, with plenty of dickishness too, winning a sequence of tricks to force your opponents over the limit.

NMBR 9 - 2 plays -  6 
First Published 2017


Polyominoes seem to be in right now, which suits me as I like spatial games. NMBR 9 is of the true-multiplayer-solitaire 'bingo' family, like Take It Easy and Karuba. It's a quicker teach than either of those and I enjoyed the simplicity of the premise. I'm not sure how much of a learning curve it has though - I more than doubled my score from 1st game to 2nd once I'd appreciated how important not leaving holes is.

Bärenpark - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2017


And more Tetris pieces. This one is most similar to Cottage Garden and Patchwork, with each player acquiring pieces from a common area to accommodate in their individual board. Phil Walker-Harding really knows how to make a smooth-playing game and I liked Barenpark much more than the fiddly Cottage Garden. But with that smoothness can come a feeling of too much balance. It's hard to see how players will ever end up far apart in scoring, unlike in the superior Patchwork.

Movable Type - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2016


Finally another word (or rather letter) game. It's very simple - each of the first four rounds you draft a hand of 5 letters and then make the best word you can with those plus 3 common letters. The scoring order of words determines the order in which you draft from the played cards into the hand you use in the fifth and final round. Best word that round wins the game.
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Fri Jun 30, 2017 10:20 am
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Q2 2017 review

Martin G
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Just a quick look at what I've been playing and buying so far this year, and a comparison to last year.

Total plays: 136

Distinct games: 58

New-to-me games: 21

Dimes: 2 - Jump Drive (24), Hanamikoji (11)

Nickels: 5 - Fuji Flush (8), Insider (6), Innovation (6), Crokinole (5), Flamme Rouge (5)

Another great quarter of gaming! In addition to my regular Tuesday nights, I had a visit from an old friend and a trip to LoBsterCon plus a bunch of lunchtime gaming (mostly the two dimes above).

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 6 - Hanamikoji, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases, Insider, Jump Drive, Montage, Polterfass

Removed: 0

Owned: 176 (excluding expansions - up from 170 at end Q1)

Unplayed: 2 (Pax Renaissance, IOTA)

Failing to learn Pax Renaissance was my one disappointment from LoBsterCon. Slight splurge on the acquisitions but I'm really enjoying all of them and got some good bargains.

Best new-to-me: Lots of good ones! Hanamikoji and Jump Drive have both been getting lots of play but Flamme Rouge and two excellent word games from Joli Quentin Kansil (What's My Word? and Montage) also deserve a mention.
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Fri Jun 30, 2017 9:01 am
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New to me May 2017

Martin G
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Another good month with no stinkers!

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases - 1 play -  8 
First Published 1981


I've been wanting to try this for years and it didn't disappoint. It's not so much a board game, more a piece of interactive fiction. I read out the clues and kept track of all the names while Sarah did most of the actual detective work! We managed to solve the first case, albeit with a pitiful score. I don't think score is really the point of this one though; the better you score, the less of the game you get to experience.

Insider - 3 plays -  7 
First Published 2016


A social deduction game I really like! This is essentially 20 Questions with a hidden role. The 'master' and the 'insider' both get to see the secret word, then the group (including the insider) ask questions with a yes/no/don't know answer to the master to try to guess it within 5 minutes. Once it's guessed, the players vote for who they think the insider is - if they get it right, they win, otherwise the insider wins.

I was insider in the first game and it's a really tricky balance of trying to steer things in the right direction without giving yourself away. I ended up having to 'guess' the word myself and got unanimously voted for. I was worried this would be a common pattern but in the second game the insider did a brilliant job of framing someone else.

Hit Z Road - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2016


This recent Wallace game had completely passed me by (zombie theme, terrible name) but it's been played a few times by my group recently and sounded quite fun. I liked it! Players have to survive over the course of 8 rounds, each round bidding to select the best (or least worst) set of two encounter cards. But the resources you bid with are the same ones you need to fight off zombies AND the resources you have left over at the end make up a big chunk of the scoring. Zombie combat is resolved with handfuls of dice (to cheers and groans) and it's entirely possible to be eliminated before the end. It's not a long game though, and we only had an elimination on the last round.

Stich-Meister - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2010


A fun trick-taker in which the rules change each hand. I knew what kind of a game it was from the rule-reveal in the first hand. With almost no brown cards, I tossed in 'every brown card you take is minus 1 point' and was delighted to see someone else had picked brown as trump... until I read the final rule card: 'for this round, negative points become positive and vice versa'.

Pucket - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2003


Frantic and amusing dexterity challenge.
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Thu Jun 1, 2017 10:33 pm
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Categories of short games

Martin G
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I recently got into a conversation which started with a geekbuddy referring to Ra as "Knizia's party-style-tile-auction affair". I questioned 'party-style' and the subsequent conversation went:

John Rogers wrote:
My reference for party games is, kinda weird. I play them rarely if at all and I tend to combine party, filler, and light games together as a block. Players are typically laughing, joking, not thinking too hard, they are easy entry points for non-gamers, and typically less than 60min sessions.


qwertymartin wrote:
Hmm yeah, different points of reference for sure. You just described 90% of what I play and I'd divide it into at least three different categories


John said he'd be interested in a breakdown of my major categories with examples. In the end I came up with seven and even that only covered games up to 30 minutes which support more than 2 players!

Here's what I came up with:

Party games
Focus on an activity that promotes conversation/socialisation, winning is rarely important, support large groups and teams. e.g. Cards Against Humanity, Say Anything, Time's Up.

Social deduction games
Focus on deception and logic, involve a lot of talking (about the game), hidden roles. e.g. The Resistance, Werewolf, Spyfall.

Super-light/pub games
Very lightweight (1 minute explanation) card/dice games, usually support large groups, push-your-luck and bluffing common. e.g. Perudo, Pairs, Skull & Roses.

Standard fillers
Feature mechanics seen in bigger games (auctions, drafting, set collection) but lighter/shorter, usually support smaller groups than party/pub games, e.g. For Sale, Coloretto, No Thanks.

Super-fillers
Short medium-weight Euros which have much of the decision space/arc of a longer game. e.g. Dominion, 7 Wonders, RFTG.

Traditional-inspired games
Suits and numbers card games including tricktakers, usually played in multiple hands. e.g. Sticheln, Diamonds, Wizard.

Light AT/'beer & pretzel'
Emphasis on theme and take-that interaction. e.g. King of Tokyo, Cash & Guns, Munchkin.

I noted that there's lots of crossover between these categories, but do they seem similar or different to the way any of you think of this class of games? Anything obvious I've missed?
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Wed May 10, 2017 11:40 am
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New to me April 2017

Martin G
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April was my best month of gaming for ages, featuring not just my first LoBsterCon for 18 months but also a visit from an old friend and long-time 2p gaming rival. Many old favourites were played but it was none-too-shabby on the new-to-me too: eleven games and only one dud.

Flamme Rouge - 4 plays -  8 
First Published 2016


Good reports from geekbuddies had put this on my radar and I was impressed with the designer's 13 Days too. I played it every week in April and was really impressed by the way the dynamics of a cycle race emerge naturally from a pleasingly simple set of rules.

What's My Word? - 2 plays -  8 
First Published 1972


I'd played an app version (vs. AI) of this ages ago, but a geekbuddy kindly sent me a couple of laminated score sheets and I introduced it to my wife. It's essentially Mastermind with words and it's very clever indeed. Just as I prefer a good crossword to Sudoku, the word element takes this beyond a dry logic puzzle. Print out a sheet and try it today!

Hanamikoji - 5 plays -  8 
First Published 2013


Another one a geekbuddy hooked me up with, bringing a copy over from the US for me on his first trip to Europe. This is a great 2p battle of wits - reminiscent of Battle Line but with added mind games, and certainly elegant enough that it could be a Knizia (high praise!).

High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2016


I picked this up in the US at Christmas but hadn't managed to get it played until now. It was a perfect fit to try with my wily and CDG-loving friend Matt.

It's a card-driven game where the two players represent the prosecution and defence in a trial and it feels very thematic. The jurors each start out with hidden traits, and in the jury selection phase you get to peek at or reveal some of these and then decide which jurors to excuse because they are unlikely to be predisposed to your side.

The main part of the trial then involves taking turns playing cards for either their event or for action points, which are used to influence jurors directly or to move various tracks corresponding to their traits (e.g. Protestant or Catholic, English or French). You also stash a handful of (hopefully strong) cards for the summation phase when final arguments are presented. In the closing deliberation phase, jurors you've already persuaded to your side can influence others, and then the final score is totalled up depending on the jurors' traits and positions of the corresponding tracks.

It's surprisingly simple and fast-playing once you get going. I think we were done in not much more than 45 minutes and hardly had to refer back to the rulebook at all. I stockpiled events for the summation phase that allowed me to present strong evidence of insanity, but when we totalled up the juror scores, Matt had achieved 103, when 100+ is required for prosecution. And by such a slender margin, Louis Riel was hanged!

Victory Point Games are soliciting designs for other famous trials using the same system and I can really see that working well. Scopes Monkey Trial please!

Das Motorsportspiel - 1 play -  7 
First Published 1995


A racing game that actually feels like racing. The dice allocation mechanism is clever enough, but setting the whole thing to a timer is genius and produces inevitable and hilarious screw-ups. Too bad it's been out of print for years.

Jump Drive - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2017


Joe taught me this as a lunchtime game, describing it as 'Race for the Galaxy in pill form'. That's a perfect summary. It's (even) less interactive than Race but still has the cardboard-crack addictiveness of the combo-building. I don't imagine it having a particularly long shelf-life but it packs enough punch for a 10-minute diversion.

Wettlauf nach El Dorado - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2017


I was intrigued by early reports of Knizia's deckbuilder and had the chance to play at LoBsterCon. I enjoyed the way the deckbuilding feeds into the board-play and the market mechanism is a nice compromise between 'you can buy anything' and random availability. I had ordered a cheap copy from amazon.de which got cancelled and will keep an eye out for the English version, but it doesn't solve the issue I often have with deckbuilders of your own turn being a lot more fun and involving than anyone else's.

Mask of Anubis - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2016


wow This is the one in which you download a smartphone app, insert the phone into an elaborate headset to create a VR viewer and then take turns to describe different parts of maze while the others frantically try to reconstruct it with tiles. Not sure I'd want to play it often but I definitely value uniqueness.

Rukshuk - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2006


A dexterity game with the most unusual pieces I've seen - very irregular ceramic blocks colour-coded by difficulty. It's played as a multiplayer solitaire, all racing to complete a structure that best matches the target card. Fun but hard!

Cartagena - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2000


I'd somehow missed out on ever playing this venerable game. Turns out to be gamer Candyland, which is no bad thing! A fun, elegant race game.

Don't Mess with Cthulhu - 1 play -  4 
First Published 2014


And finally to the one dud. I just don't get social deduction. As I said at the end, I just don't really feel like I've played a game. Still, it was quick and harmless, and played in good spirit with good company.
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Tue May 2, 2017 2:49 pm
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Q1 2017 review

Martin G
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Just a quick look at what I've been playing and buying so far this year, and a comparison to last year.

Total plays: 115 (2016 had 96, 2015 had 142, 2014 had 205, 2013 had 140)

Distinct games: 38 (2016 had 59, 2015 had 48, 2014 had 67, 2013 had 56)

New-to-me games: 5 (2016 had 14, 2015 had 17, 2014 had 14, 2013 had 21)

Dimes: 3 (1 in 2016, 3 in 2015, 3 in 2014, 3 in 2013) - Pax Porfiriana (23), Fuji Flush (20), Eggs of Ostrich (13)

Nickels: 2 (2 in 2016, 2 in 2015, 8 in 2014, 4 in 2013) - A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King (8), Rolling America (5)

Gaming returned to something like normality for the first time since Effie was born. She's sleeping well enough in the evenings that I can make it to my weekly game night and I also had a couple of nice sessions with work friends. Even better, I've been enjoying lots of play of some recent favourites and not spending much time at all learning. Plus the brilliant new implementation of Pax Porfiriana at yucata.de let me get in a great run at one of my favourite games.

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 4 (3 in 2016, 6 in 2015, 6 in 2014, 7 in 2013) - Pax Renaissance, A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King, Circus Train (Second edition), New York Slice

Removed: 1 (Evolution: The Beginning)

Owned: 170 (excluding expansions - up from 167 at end 2016)

Unplayed: 3 (High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel, Pax Renaissance, IOTA)

Pax Ren and High Treason should both get played at Eastbourne at the end of the month. The collection keeps ticking up though not terribly rapidly...

Best new-to-me: A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King - a very smart 15 minutes of spatial play and special powers

New 10s: none
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Sat Apr 1, 2017 4:38 pm
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Q4 2016 review

Martin G
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A quick look at what I've been playing and buying this quarter, and a comparison to last year.

Total plays: 48 (2015 had 149, 2014 had 123, 2013 had 99)

Distinct games: 38 (2015 had 64, 2014 had 60, 2013 had 43)

New-to-me games: 19 (15 in 2015, 21 in 2014, 11 in 2013)

Dimes: 0 (3 in 2015, 0 in 2014, 1 in 2013)

Nickels: 0 (3 in 2015, 6 in 2014, 3 in 2013)

Another lean patch bolstered by games with my nephew and a session with Jimmy over the Christmas break.

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 8 - IOTA, Rolling America, Codenames: Deep Undercover, Eggs of Ostrich, High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel, Fresh Fish, HMS Dolores, Fuji Flush

Removed: 0

Owned: 167 (excluding expansions - up from 159 at end Q3)

Unplayed: 3 - Codenames: Deep Undercover, IOTA, High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel

Christmas gifts, a couple of post-Essen orders and US sales saw the collection grow to what I think is its highest ever. I need to make good on my purging plans this year.

Best new-to-me: Fresh Fish seemed unique and intriguing but I'm not sure how easily it will be to get it played.

New 10s: none
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Mon Jan 2, 2017 3:21 pm
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New to me FIVE years ago

Martin G
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Geeklist posted! New to you FIVE years ago 2016 => Has it stood the test of time?

I'm going to use a little web app I wrote to look at how much subsequent play the games I learned in 2011 have got, starting with the ones that have been played every year since.

Played in all five subsequent years

Kingdom Builder (11/32/15/21/3/2)
I only played Kingdom Builder for the first time in December but was instantly smitten and racked up a bunch of plays with my family over Christmas. It was a firm favourite throughout the next three years and I reviewed the base game and the first two expansions, each of which nicely extended the replayability. Plays dropped off in 2015 and 2016 (but my plays of everything dropped off in 2016) but I've just ordered Marshlands and I'm hoping that will inspire a fresh flush of plays next year.

Discworld: Ankh-Morpork (8/7/3/1/1/1)
This one has experienced a common pattern for my collection of a gradual drop-off to one play a year. I always enjoy it when I do play it though - it can be random and unfair, but it does a great job of evoking the humour of the Discworld.

Played in four subsequent years

Perudo: (44/16/7/1/1/0)
I'd played this years before I was logging plays on BGG, but the rash of plays in 2011 and 2012 were almost all at the pub with my wife and a couple of good friends. But we moved away, they split up and it's only hit the table sporadically since then. There's a lot of competition in the bluffing category these days, but I still think this is a true classic.

Oregon (2/7/1/1/1/0) - a Christmas present in 2011 and I was utterly trounced on my first couple of plays. I then started to figure out how it worked and enjoyed it more, though the extent to which a good player will crush a new one made some of the later plays less satisfying.

(Nearly) Dime and done

A Few Acres of Snow - Wallace has a worrying knack of designing games that I'm initially obsessed with but then burn out hard (Brass and the above Ankh-Morpork are the only real stayers for me). I worried from my first play that the static nature of the card market would allow optimal strategies to emerge, and shortly after the Halifax Hammer proved me right.

Month by month new-to-me picks

January: Mr. Jack Pocket - a passing fancy but it doesn't look like anything else endured from this month either
February: Tammany Hall - a game I admire greatly but find so intense and draining that I rarely push to get it played. Lords of Vegas has probably overtaken it due to the enthusiasm of my current group for it.
March: Jacynth - I never really found anything to play with my Decktet that I loved. This was another disappointing month for new games.
April: En Garde - ...and another.
May: Nefertiti - I eventually acquired a copy of this and rather enjoy it. This month was also notable for me calling King of Tokyo 'not a very well-designed game'. Twenty plays later, it's safe to say I was wrong.
June: Taluva - I don't like this game much now and I didn't even like it much at the time. I definitely should have picked Raj - simplicity itself and great fun with it.
July: Lords of Scotland - a nice little special-powers card game that eventually faded away. Reiner Knizia's Decathlon is still an entertaining diversion from time to time.
August: Lost Valley - I really enjoy this and eventually acquired the new version but haven't played it as much as I'd like.
September: Chronicle - I picked this ahead of Ankh-Morpork, which was a mistake, though I do still like it.
October: Show Manager - yet another pleasant midweight Euro that hasn't become a regular.
November: Die Sieben Siegel - still a favoured tricktaker with a twist, whatever its current name may be. Possibly should have given the nod to the wonderfully dickish Mexica though.
December: Kingdom Builder - I was also raving about Vanuatu after my first play, but by the time my copy finally arrived, it wasn't my type of game any more.

End of year top ten at the time (not ordered)

Kingdom Builder
Discworld: Ankh-Morpork
A Few Acres of Snow
Vanuatu
Lords of Scotland
Tammany Hall
Lords of Vegas
Die Sieben Siegel
Chronicle
Tribune: Primus Inter Pares - the only one not already mentioned. It was too fiddly and didn't get played again after 2011.

All in all, this feels like a year I fell out of love with playing new games (with a few notable exceptions). Spoiler alert though: 2012 proved to be quite different!
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Sat Dec 24, 2016 9:08 pm
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