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I'm continuing to analyze popularity of games in 2016, using data about total number of BGG players for every month. Lets look at still played 2011 year' games!
The most popular by game types
General comments: I’ve played a surprisingly small number of the popular 2011 games. I think this is less reflective of the quality of the crop and more of how many games were coming out (and my increasing disengagement from the Cult of the New into ludic navel-gazing). But there's some real corkers in there. If there is an overarching theme here, it would be the constant battle between simplicity and gamers demanding "more stuff".
King of Tokyo: There’s two puzzles here and the first is why KoT works so well. The second is why its successor, King of New York, doesn’t. Like lots of Richard Garfield designs, KoT looks simple but belies the thought that must have gone into it. It would be so easy for the game to descend into a simple slugfest of repeatedly rolling dice at each other or, conversely, something that turns into an endless "bash the (current) leader" or even something that swings furiously as players acquire powers. But it doesn't.
Also KoT is simple. It passes the "Samo test" of being able to be taught in 15 minutes and throwing people into the game for them to wail away at each other.
And it's all about kaiju fighting each other. I know, right?
KoT strengths lead me to wonder about how its sequel went wrong. It's not a fiasco, in any sense, but there's the widespread feeling that it's a step down and doesn't work as well. Some of this is no doubt due to all the good ideas being used up in KoT. But KoNY also falls for the classic trap of injecting "more stuff" / "things gamers like" into the system. Hey, you can fight the army now. Hey, you can destroy buildings. Hey, there's topology in the board now.
Hey, does this make the game better?
Boardgamers, making simple good things less good since 2000.
Sentinels of the Multiverse: SotM sure is popular but ain’t for me. I don’t dislike the game: in fact, it’s a great achievement to “cardify” a superhero story into a working game (there's lots of themes and stories that seem as if they’d make a good exciting game but in reality are difficult to implement) and to keep issuing endless expansions without breaking the game. The mechanics for the different environments and the AI villains are clever.
But I find it a little ... bloodless. The reflexive criticism is to say that SotM is just an optimisation exercise (like so many other coops) but then so many games - good games - are optimisation exercises. Why do I mind here?
Perhaps it's that the game is too vulnerable to DO THIS ITS THE BEST CHOICE sort of strategizing. Perhaps it's the subsequent horrible vulnerability to alpha players. Maybe it's me: I want to be making choices in games, and SotM takes that away from me.
Dark Moon: One cannot speak Dark Moon without speaking of Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game. We forget what a revelation it was, the hidden traitor genre, and how well BSG realised it. (No doubt some pedant will swing in and assert that an obscure Flemish title called - I dunno - GeschrumpftenPenisMarkt was there first and was the seminal hidden traitor title, where "seminal" is defined as <wah wah wah Charlie Brown's parents voices>. Yeah but no, BSG was when we all got het up about traitors). It also capitalised well upon the popularity of the show.
I always felt the more showy elements detracted from the game, putting the player interaction to a side while someone zooms off in a Viper to fight Cylons by themselves. And so the scene was set for a streamlined BSG. But while "BattleStar Galactica Express" (Dark Moon) strips out this extraneous "plot", it shares the problem of the parent game in running long, long, long. While this doesn't kill the game for me, I feel it works slightly against the atmosphere and mood of it. I can't be suspicious of everyone else (or lurking undercover) for two hours plus. Can we have a streamlined Dark Moon?
Skull: Rolls the double-think and take-that elements of Liars Dice into a simple, neat package. Poifect. We need more pub games put into nice packages for easy play.
Elder Sign: Distils the shambling, sprawling mess that is Arkham Horror down into a more compact - and damnit, more fun - package. (I know that EH isn't strictly speaking an AH sequel / re-implementation, but it scratches the same genre and feel itches without being an unholy, over-complex mess. So there.) The sole drawback for FFG is that this makes the game a perfect fit for tablet. In fact, it almost fits better, stripping away a lot of the residual annoying overhead. As such, EH is one of those games that now resides on my tablet, and doesn't get played with other people. This may also reflect that EH is a good but not great coop. I don't get the feel of great teamwork and narrowly snatching at victory like I do with Pandemic, perhaps because EH feels a bit like multi-player solitaire.
Rhino Hero: there is a picture on the London-on-Board meetup of a player placing a card on the top of a teetering RH tower, their agonised face all tense and wincing.
That's the sign of a great game.
Kingdom Builder: KB is another game that's migrated from the table to tablet. As such, it's become my time-waster of choice between tube stops and I've played literally hundreds of games. My distilled wisdom is thus:
- KB is another simple game that belies the work that went into tuning it. Several of the goals would seem not to work together but after a while you can see possibilities.
- Easy to teach, more to it than meets the eye, variety in gameplay, finishes in a fixed amount of time. Boom.
- Having said that, I can see some faults. There's a heavy path dependency in the first few turns, where the draw of cards can screw you out of the game through no fault of your own. Even after hundreds of games, I still only beat the AI about 40% of the time, largely due to that. the cards can screw you, and do so a little too often for my liking.
- I'm less enthused about some of the expansions for KB. It seems to me that they've lost the idea of simplicity. But again: gamers always want more stuff.
King of Tokyo |9.5|
Ah, the top of the 2011 crop. It was just so an outstanding game when it came out (and hard to find a copy). A light, direct, interactive and thematic ameritrash (sure, it's AT) which made player elimination fashionable again! Yay. The design is more clever than usually given credit for - in between yahtzee and life points (a MtG trick) lies a core which is neither. A game balances between two end conditions (points, which ask for commitment in rolling sets) and player elimination though its centrepiece - king of the hill dynamics - a way that involves groupthink where it often pays to do the opposite of what others are doing.
I recently lowered rating a bit as I got a bit burned out of it (kids workshop. Recently Bang the Dice game has become more popular there though as it's simpler), but it's totally one of the best designs which achieves a lot with little. And can survive completely random deck of cards Richard threw in there.
The Castles of Burgundy -1.0-
Back in the day people were talking about euros again and some guy called Feld and something called "a victory point salad". Of course, me being clever, I was sure what they're talking about. Then I played Burgund von Burgund and ...Oh! A realization dawned. So that's a victory point salad! It's not about points at all, I mean, yes it's about points from everywhere, but it's not the points that matter (they're everywhere!), but the dilution of tension. I couldn't have imagined that even the tiny amount of tension and interaction in workerplacements could be diluted further. But hey, if anybody could do it, Feld's your man. (He's also the man to make an auction be about optimisation, but that's another game).
Go here for my infamous private talk with the Castles of Burgundy, with the dude himself.
After so many euros this game came to eurogaming club I attended at the time. Fighting! Combat! Err, yeah 1-1.5 hour into the game. Before you need to optimise your puzzle, I mean, your interstellar civilisation. Around this time I figured Civ. games and 4x games aren't my thing - I'd prefer combat from the get go, and not linked to economic engine building if possible. Saying this, I kinda liked the game - I liked the visuals and the simple un-baroque spaceships. Mostly I liked the building ships part - you build it and then you fight with it. I'd love a game just about this part. (Err, yeah, very much like Galaxy Trucker, but PvP).
This game felt a lot like a boardgame of Master of Orion would, but the final nail in the coffin was that it was to hard to teach (I mean, I taught it fine, people were slow to catch on) and was AP prone with some people.
The game with the most insane premise ever. Ever heard of japanese gardens? I've got a book about it - from early era, to zen garden, to tea garden. It's an art form, a philosophy, a dedication and meticulous deliberation. But then an Emperor throws a chinese panda in the middle of your garden in the name of japanese-chinese relations or something. The hell? What have you been smoking Bauza? This shit ain't funny, you know how much time that bamboo took to grow? The whole scenario makes no sense.
Otherwise pretty generic family type fare, except it's more diffucult to explain than competition as it's kinda gamey and it's also a lazy design in being gamey: let's put scores on cards and cards tell you what you do; here there are actions you can do, and here are cards which reward these actions. I don't see anything that would tie the game together, on the mechanical level at least. It's just pieces put together in the same box. Which is probably why: panda. It's a focal point to bring the game together and forgive all its shortcommings.
A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (second edition) -3.0-
Why mr. Petersen? Why take Diplomacy and butcher it beyond recognition? Oh, right, it's a new game, totally different... yeah, can I downgrade back to Diplomacy?
The trick to this reworking of Diplomacy is trying to make a workable 3 hour version with not as pronounced player elimination. Which isn't a bad goal, it's the path there, laid with everything but the kitchensink (though that's probably in there somewhere as well) which leaves a lot to be desired. aGoT adds all sorts of complications to a sorta Diplomacy frame - 4 types of unites instead of 2, possibility of multiple armies per space which are regulated by a certain terrain icons (barrels) players must try to control, then the voting tokens to make the diplomacy more... gamey? The effect of these "improvements" is twofold: firstly it allows players to manipulate the game's system to certain extent and gain advantage there, secondly the game adds a lot of randomness to make it more exciting or something. Both dilute the need for alliances and allow players to solo - either by taking advantage of min-maxing mechanisms or by trying to rely on pure luck. End result not really being satisfactory - if I want to solo in a negotiation game, there's Cosmic Encounter which has a much lighter rules overhead (What? FFG is making a version of CE with a Game of Thrones setting? how surprising...). So it's a DoaM/Diplomacy hybrid with as many mechanisms as Petersen could remember to put in there.
But wait, there's more. There's the shift from 1st to 2nd edition. Ugh.
The good: 2nd edition comes with 1st ed. expansion as a part of the base game.
The bad: ever more random luck thrown in, in the shape of player decks of cards (in 1st ed. values were 1 or 2, I think, in 2nd ed. they're 1 through 8, I think).
The ugly: The sea. It's brown now. WHY?!
Elder Sign -2.0-
Ha. FFG's first attempt to make3-3.5 hour Arhkam Horror streamlined and shorter. And they managed it with a filler type game. That only takes 1.5 hours! Uhm... Yeah, kinda long for what it is. What it is, is taking Knizia's mechanism from Risk Express and meshing it with a sorta kinda adventure game. Only there's no adventure to be had, we couldn't create any atmosphere no matter how we tried, we read flavour text out loud to see if we can create some narrative, but it's impossible. Flavour text is boring, meaningless and because of bad font choice unreadable. While it's admirable how they manage to reinterpret AH's rules in a new way the result didn't really do what it was promising too. They cut too much of it. So their second attempt, Eldrich Horror was a huge success because it cut 3-3.5 hour AH to 2.5-3 hours. Whee! But they did keep the murky browny baroque and barely readable graphic design for their entire Mythos line of games.
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game -2.0-
A coop that succeeds in eliminating alpha gamer syndrome by giving each player their own deck. But - it's a LCG. I'm supposed to spend so much money for a co-op? Err?
Flash Point: Fire Rescue -2.0-
This co-op was all the rage at the time - similar to it's thrice removed cousin Pandemic, but more thematic. The theme was more tangible and easier to relate to - rescuing people from a burining building you can see is different that imagining spread of diseases over the globe in visuals close to a Power point presentation. The game was also more random (not as clever as Pandemic) and had some modules to increase difficulty. I was pretty meh on it as I'm on all co-ops. Funnily enough - nobody talks about this anymore, but everybody talks about Pandemic.
I got this for a birthday present (if anybody asks I advise against people giving me games as gifts). And this after actively avoiding it at eurogaming meetups for months. Luckily the present givers included the bill, so I could exchange it for something else. So I asked two eurogamers for their opinion.
A young, enthusiastic eurogamer: "Oh Samo, you will like this, it's soo thematic!"
A seasoned eurogamer and a Felding: "Samo, what the hell will you do with this?"
So, I tried to exchange it in a store, but it was bought in a department stores (we were low on FLGSs at the time) on a post new year discount and there was nothing there I really wanted. Till I remembered a guy whose OLGS idea failed and ended up with some unplayed games including multiple copies of Modern Art (pegasus edition). He owned a vegeterian fast food stall around the corner so I struck a deal for trade my Village in a shrink wrap for Modern Art. Which is currently my #2 game.
[No, I'm not interesting in trying out Village, don't be sily.]
Kingdom Builder -5.5-
The game many eurogamers couldn't get. Including those I've played with so I only tried it once. Bummer. Becuase there are no choices if there's only one card in your hand! Aaaa... [goes banging my head against the wall.] [but not for long] Anyhow - interesting spatial game which I'd love to try some more. But boy is it uncharming. The visuals are that pedestrian generic mimetic realism of Queen Games probably at one of their worst. The game isn't really viscerally engaging as there's some thinking involved, some counter-intuitive manoeuvres. And I'm not entirely a fan of Vaccarino's "core structure" + "data" approach (i.e. seriously dislike it). Still, I like games with a strong spatial element, so maybe I'll borrow this one and see if there's some hope for the pair of us (me and KB).
Mansions of Madness -3.5-
Another FFG mythos game from 2011. Another case of dark baroque visuals. Another mess.
I think it's not on Igor's list because it seems everybody switched to 2.0 version. But, I think that one is a fail as well
The basic premise is to achieve what boardgamers think RPGs are about, i.e. an RPG without an RPG.
You have a lavish board made out of tiles and oh so many cards that the game takes an hour to set up.
You have a ton of minis, most of which never see play. Nope. If you're the Keeper (bad guy GM), you'll mostly just move weak cultist around.
The game comes with 5 scenarios, each with 3 options. Half of them aren't recommended (i.e. they stink).
All scenarios are linear and not replayable at all.
In short, what boardgamers want RPGs to be is something completely on the rails with zero creativity, roleplaying, acting or excitement.
And FFG hoped people will pay for each scenario, or something (this was before Legacy format).
FFG took their time and fixed the issues of the game with the second (!!!) expansion - finally they paid someone to write story epilogues, they added some randomness and pychology which shortened the set up time and actually created replayability of a non-linear scenario. And big minis included in this box actually saw play.
I played the whole series with both expansions some 8-10 times, always as the keeper, till I got fed up with it. It's crazily expensive as a product and boringly narrow for what it is. Wasteful. Why not play BaHotH?
P.S. Now they exchanged the Keeper for an app so they could offer an even more passive pseudo RPG experience. I hope it flops.
Dixit Odyssey -3.0-
Dixit game without the original Dixit illustrator which made me realise just how much Marie Cardouat's contribution made the game (should be credited as co-designer). This one doesn't work - visuals not as open, not as inviting to popular culture references, they're just odd, do not communicate. Plus the board is brown. Pass.
Eminent Domain -1.5-
The more I played this the more bland and pedestrian it felt. It's a kinda blend of tableau builders (like RFTG) and deck building, but being less than the sum of its parts. They decided to go down the path of having mostly a lot of the same cards, so it's more crucial to optimise around them, then to think on the spot how they go together (like in RFTG). Visuals are terribly uninspiring, not evoking anything and mostly looking like a game console. Oh and there's some leeching added to optimisation. Wheee!
Rhino Hero -8.5-
Little dexterity game that could. My favorite new to me game of 2016 - there's this certain charm of seeing a tower of cards being built. So much that nobody really cares who wins, just making it a tall tower, and adults don't think it's a kids game (unlike Animal upon Animal which actually allows for more skillful play). Rhino adds a nice dickery touch to the game, UNO-like powers on cards make learning the game easier. So, what's not to like?
Catch a Falling Star -7.0-
Another dexterity game - pick up sticks in reverse! A pretty unique stacking game in that it has some engineering vibe about it - it's quite open to varius ideas (mostly stupid ones) and has that attitude of "oh, of course it will work, just push this in there, aaa... ah, okay, it holds, it will be fine!"
Mogel Motte -6.0-
A game about cheating. Definitely a must for families (not to teach kids teaching, it's to teach you how to spot them in the act). Basically a simple shedding game - first player out of cards in their hand wins, but, some cards you can't legally play, so you hide them somewhere, drop them on the floor, whatever works. We played this with some teens from technical high cools, the type of guys who hide joints from their parents and teachers. Their skills were from another planet. You could watch them in their hand of cards and it was slowly disappearing without you noticing when. They helped one another cheat without any noticeable communication. One guy put his hoodie on the floor (so we didn't hear cards falling down). I'm not sure I have the skills for it (yet), but certainly quite a unique game that deserves a mention.