Looking Back: The Best Games of 2011
Bryan Maxwell
United States
Burtchville
Michigan
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It's that time of year, when people review the year that was. In the board game hobby, many new and interesting titles are released at the Essen Game Fair in October, and they slowly make their way over to the states over the next several months. These games also take time and repeated plays to appreciate (or cast aside).

I just posted to a "Best 2012 Release" geeklist, and for me it's too soon to figure that out. 2011, however, is a different story. The games have been around for a year or more, most of them have been made available and if I haven't tried them by now it's because I'm not interested enough to have tracked down a copy.

So, after a year of reflection, what is your favorite game that was released in 2011? Any surprises? Anything that started off hot with you and flamed out?
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1. Board Game: Vanuatu [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:660]
Bryan Maxwell
United States
Burtchville
Michigan
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I'm going to start things off with my favorite game from 2011, Vanuatu. Contrary to what I wrote in the header, this is one I've only had the chance to play 2 times. The game is chock full of tension, nastiness and tough decisions.

It was a tough choice, however. 2011 saw several great games:

Ascending Empires: Replaces dice rolling with flicking as a less random way to determine movement and combat. Simple rules and very quick turns make this a winner for 4 players.

Black Gold: Terrific euro from FFG, this reimplementation of Giganten has quite a bit going on between moving your truck, building your oil derricks and bidding on the right to sell your oil at the volatile market prices. It also has enough chance to keep it from being dry and deterministic. The bluffing option adds some extra intrigue to the auction. Wonderful, under appreciated title.

Letters from Whitechapel: What an intense cat-and-mouse game. For 2 engaged players with the right mindset, it's tough to top the experience this one provides.

A Few Acres of Snow: Really ambitious marriage of deckbuilding and wargame-ish stuff. Of course, it was unfortunately marred by the whole Halifax Hammer thing. Still, it's a great game for those of us (like me) who have purposely avoided finding out the details of that dominant strategy.

Trajan and Castles of Burgundy: These both go into the same bucket for me: nice, medium weight games my wife and I can enjoy in about an hour. Thanks, Stefan Feld.

Nightfall started off hot and flamed out for me. Well, it just never made it back to the table after a short initial exploration of it. Everyone liked it, but no one made it a priority to play (myself included). Ditto for Tournay.

Overall it was a pretty good year for new games.

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2. Board Game: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game [Average Rating:7.63 Overall Rank:105]
Albatros
Canada
Victoria
British Columbia
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You'd think that after a year (for some of these games), I'd have more solid ratings for 2011, but I don't. The most played game of 2011 was Ascension: Storm of Souls, but it wasn't my favourite by far...although it may have been my wife's.

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a solid "9" after over sixty plays. It's not likely to change any time soon. It's usurped Arkham Horror as my cooperative game of choice.

Mage Knight Board Game is also a "9" but that's only after a dozen plays and half of them solo. It's a great game to puzzle through, but the almost total lack of randomness actually steals a little of the excitement for me. There could be just a little more sense of the unknown for a fantasy game.

Ora et Labora is a solid "8" after about a dozen plays, but I still prefer Le Havre when it comes to action-selection/resource conversion games. I don't much care for Ora et Labora's spacial mechanics. But as my wife much prefers Ora et Labora, it's been getting more plays.

Other games that I currently rate "8", but have less than a dozen plays include Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan, 1989: Dawn of Freedom and Vanuatu. These ratings could change with more plays.

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3. Board Game: Flash Point: Fire Rescue [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:254]
Steve Kennedy

New Hampshire
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I'd add this one to the mix as it is a great game. The family version gives you a better chance to succeed but the harder game will keep you busy for many days to come.

This one and The Castles of Burgundy, which we really picked up last Spring, are among favorites of ours released in 2011.

Though we haven't had a chance to play it yet, Lancaster also holds some promise for a favorite from last year as well.
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4. Board Game: Summoner Wars: Master Set [Average Rating:7.58 Overall Rank:147] [Average Rating:7.58 Unranked]
Matt Brown
United States
Okemos
Michigan
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One of the most likely games for me to get based on previous gaming experience and yet to held off since I wanted to try other stuff. I wasn't sure on the board and walls aspect either. I broke down and got it since Amazon had it cheap and down went the red pill.

King of Tokyo

More fun that it ever has a right to be all things considered. Just a fun as hell kind of game that doesn't overstay its welcome.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue

Ride around in a firetruck using a fire hose? Yes please. Pandemic is better built, but FP is more fun.
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5. Board Game: Core Worlds [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:528]
Rafael Rosa
United States
Forest Park
Illinois
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Easily this one. It has supplanted Thunderstone Advance (and quickly) as my favorite deckbuilder.

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6. Board Game: Kingdom Builder [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:456]
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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I was in the first flush of my Kingdom Builder infatuation at the end of 2011. 40-odd plays later, it's very clearly my game of the year.

I had good words for A Few Acres of Snow at the time, but Discworld: Ankh-Morpork turned out to be the Wallace with staying power for me. Honourable mentions to some neat small-box card games: Lords of Scotland, BraveRats and Trick of the Rails.
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7. Board Game: Space Empires: 4X [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:439] [Average Rating:7.62 Unranked]
Michael Debije
Netherlands
Eindhoven
The Netherlands
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One of my favorite games ever, it manages everything I wanted in a space empire game- and now there comes even more with an expansion!

Bios: Megafauna Would win in other years. A simplified, more 'gamey' American Megafauna.

Fighting Formations: Grossdeutschland Motorized Infantry Division Man, I have to play this more...

Urban Sprawl Wonderful wild ride by Chad Jensen: yeah, I'm a fanboy.

Cave Evil I love the audacity of this game.

Drum Roll Why? Not even sure, but I like it.

Feudality Lots of fun in a short time... nice filler.

Kolejka Who thought queuing could be fun?
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8. Board Game: Band of Brothers: Screaming Eagles [Average Rating:7.85 Overall Rank:1559] [Average Rating:7.85 Unranked]
Judd Vance
United States
Wichita
Kansas
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It was a great year for wargames, but in my book, this one stood head and shoulders above all of them.

The best squad-level wargame system out there. It's realistic and simple all at the same time. The decisions are hard and the rulebook checking is minimal.

Many attempts have been made at capturing this, but at long last we have it.
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9. Board Game: Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 1 – Team Asia & Legendary Asia [Average Rating:7.72 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.72 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.72 Unranked]
Ben Lott
United States
Mason
Michigan
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I have to give a shout out to this expansion because it completely reinvigorated the base game for me. Suddenly I was amped up about playing Ticket to Ride again after it had become a once-a-year kind of game. In fact I'm still excited about getting the team variant back to the table.

BITS - No one else will mention this game, but I love it. It's a completely different twist on the puzzle game that Knizia made in FITS. I love the planning that I'm forced to do in this game, and I'll gladly play it any time.

The Dwarf King - As a trick-taking fan I already have a list of trick-taking games that I love. So to say that in just over a year this game has catapulted to being my favorite trick-taking game of all time, that's remarkable. I love everything about this one, and suggest it almost every time we play games. I just wish there was an expansion to add some variety.
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10. Board Game: The Castles of Burgundy [Average Rating:8.12 Overall Rank:12]
Jason Lott
United States
Cheverly
Maryland
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Tops for me has to be those Castles. We've only played a couple of times, but it's just so rich and fun and interesting. Lots to explore and just enough player interaction to keep things moving. Love it.

Like Ben I'll also give a shout-out to the Team Asia expansion for TtR - the Legendary Asia map is a refreshing change, and then the Team Asia map is a complete game-changer. Remarkable.

Lastly I'll tip my hat to 7 Wonders: Leaders which was another excellent expansion last year. I thought it took the base game to a new level without veering away from the original intent/spirit of the game. That's hard to do, but this was a success.
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11. Board Game: Kingdom Builder [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:456]
John Bandettini
United Kingdom
London
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After two plays I rated it a 10 and made it my favourite game ever. More than 40 plays later I have no reason to change my mind. Simple rules, short playing time, lots of variety and lots of tough decisions make it near enough to perfect for me.
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12. Board Game: King of Tokyo [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:228]
Samo Oleami
Slovenia
Ljubljana
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This year has brought a big change to my gaming - I entered the local gaming club (probably the only purely boardgaming in my country), I've even found ameritrash tolerant gaming group and discovered in the end, I tend to favour the simple games as they tend to be the most interactive and you know - fun.

1. King of Tokyo 9/10

The direct interaction of this one was like sunny day after months of bad weather. On top of it this interaction is wonderfully guided away from the free for all conflict. It's a game I don't play to win - no, I play for the gusto. I go for the kill.

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Tour de force of board game design, not to mention the graphics which match the gameplay as well. So simple, yet Garfield succeeds by doing things other designers shun away from - like player elimination. Game is put on a fragile tight rope (or maybe more of them) - VPs VS player elimination, going for Tokyo VS running away - and it's up to players to shake it and determine the flow of the game. I also see it as a distant descendant of Cosmic Encounter - in particularly how the game deals with conflict and avoids the pitfalls of free-for-all multiplayer conflict. With this inclination towards group think, KoT is game with wonderfully little overhead and plenty of space to geek out and roleplay the stupid little lovable monsters.


2. Mansions of Madness 8.5/10

Not a great game, but a great methadone until I get my RPG fix. And I've been recently getting bored of playing games to win and this one has a nice way around it - it's about the atmosphere, the atmosphere and maybe the story. Probably the best thematic ride after Arkham Horror and maybe also Android.

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And onto guilty pleasures. Is this a great game? No, it's not, it's a terrible product with too many pieces you seldom use and too low replayability and takes 1 hour to set up (not kidding). Yet as a keeper I've been enjoying it immensely and is probably my RPG methadone - its biggest achievement is that it got me thinking to pick up RPGs yet again and GM them. Oh, what the game is good at: atmosphere. Just that. But very, very good at that. Highest ranking game I don't own and have no intent of owning.


3. Eclipse 8/10

I don't have a final opinion on this one yet - only played twice. But after some epic games which I found all too long for what they are (TI 3, FFG civilisation, BSG, maybe Game of Thrones was ok) - this one was enjoyable. The neutral enemies make the fights start soon and the best part of the game is building an engine, well ships and watch that engine do something, namely fight. This is the only game after MTG to give me that (I hate deckbuildiers as you're just building the deck to build the deck). I wouldn't mind if this ship building was all the game would be about, and all civilisation junk being cut away. Also the fights are wonderfully adrenaline inducing - they're long and it's all about probabilities in action.
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13. Board Game: Blood Bowl: Team Manager – The Card Game [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:240]
"Every Board Game I Reach Is Dead"
United Kingdom
Scarborough
North Yorkshire
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I was surprised with this one!

I hate novelty card games, but love Blood Bowl- I saw what FFG did to Space Hulk when they turned it into a card game and dreaded this. I was wrong!

Great feeling of balance for a Card Game, lots of fun, captures the feel of Blood Bowl whilst been its own game.

Worrying that the upcoming expansion will spoil the balanced feeling and make stuff too complex.. goo
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14. Board Game: Space Empires: 4X [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:439] [Average Rating:7.62 Unranked]
Ed Bradley
United Kingdom
Haverhill
Suffolk
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Very, very difficult to choose between this and Mage Knight Board Game. I've played more games of MK for more hours and it is an awesome game. But SE4X is a visceral treat whereas MK is much more cerebral.

King of Tokyo has to get a mention after nearly 80 plays. Garfield scores again :-)

After playing Kingdom Builder almost 50 times I have to wonder why anyone would ever buy any other light euro.

Jim Krohn had a great year with Band of Brothers: Screaming Eagles following after SE4X. Anyone thinking of dabbling in wargames should start here I reckon.

Ratings of 2011 games I own:
Space Empires 9
Mage Knight 9
Band of Brothers 8
King of Tokyo 8
Kingdom Builder 8
Summoner Wars 8
Star Trek: Fleet Captains 7
Bios Megafauna I don't feel I've played it enough to give a solid rating yet.
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