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.
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!
Wherein I Discuss Those Games Described As Gamer's Games
- [+] Dice rolls