The Games I Played and assorted thoughts: June 1, 2019 - May 31, 2020
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Last year, I tried something new with my annual recap Geek list. I wrote at length about how the game worked, how to play it, and concluded with my overall thoughts. The result was over 200 pages long when I copied the text into a word processor. wow

Yeah, that's too much to expect people to read all at once. I spent several months refining my thoughts, and then launched www.ToPlayOrNotToPlay.net, where I review all sorts of board games. I've had a lot of fun writing those reviews, so please check it out if you'd like to see more. I post a new review (nearly) every Monday. And, while I'm shilling, you can also follow me on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/toplayornot/ or on Twitter https://twitter.com/OrNotToPlay. I post pictures of games I'm playing (sometimes), links to my new reviews, and polls for which game I should review next.

Enough of that, let's get back on topic. Obviously, the pandemic has had a major impact on my gaming habits. Thanks to websites like boardgamearena.com, yucata.de, and dominion.games, I've still been able to scratch the boardgame itch. But, well, it's not the same. The library of available games isn't my own, unintuitive interfaces sometimes lead to gameplay errors that wouldn't happen in person, and half the reason I enjoy board games is the excuse to spend time with friends in person. Nonetheless, video chat has been a decent substitute. And this has been a decent excuse to experiment with new games I might not have tried otherwise. So far, most of those have been pretty successful!

This year, I played 141 unique games a total of 403 times. Last year I played 148 games a total of 393 times. I thought that things would decrease this year after the stay-at-home orders went into effect, but apparently they stayed fairly constant.

Really, the big disappointment is just how many of my games never made it off the shelf. I played less than half of them in the past year. And yes, some of that is because there aren't any online versions of most of my games. But even before I had to shift my gaming online, I wasn't playing many of my own games. We'll see if that changes at all in the coming year, I guess.

Let's get on with the main event. Here's the criteria for games I count:
1. All hobby board and card games played in person
2. All hobby board and card games played online with human players
3. Any mass-market board and cards played in person (Chess, Clue, Monopoly, etc.)
4. No classic card games (Anything that uses a traditional deck of 52 playing cards)
5. No hobby board and card games played against AI
6. No video games that resemble board or card games (e.g. Armello)

As usual, the list is organized from most played to least played, and alphabetically for games I played the same number of times. Enjoy!
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1. Board Game: Innovation [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:328]
Board Game: Innovation
Plays: 24
Plays last year: 9 (#4)

Here's a quick list of I played the most each year since I started making these geeklists in 2015:
2015: Shadow Hunters
2016: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
2017: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
2018: Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
2019: We Didn't Playtest This At All Legacies

For the first time in five years, my most-played game isn't a Legacy game. Innovation has been one of my favorite games from the first moment I held the cards in my hand. This is also a hard game to introduce to new players because it's got a steep learning curve filled with jargon.

For a long time, I just didn't have many friends who would play this with me because they didn't know the game very well. WBC (the World Boardgaming Championships) became my one opportunity to really play. But since then more of my friends have learned to play and internalized the jargon. For the first time in years I have friends who will not only play this with me, but will suggest it themselves!

Then the stay-at-home order hit, and it turns out that Innovation is available on Boardgamearena.com! Now when we want to play a relatively quick two-player game, Innovation sits right up there with Lost Cities, Jaipur, and The Fox in the Forest as go-to option.

The upside of all that? Innovation skyrocketed to become my third-most played game since I started recording game plays in August 2014. That means I have enough recorded games to actually compile some data that isn't completely meaningless!

Below, you can find my win/loss records, as well records of how often each possible starting Age 1 card has won (both my wins and overall). I've also included some data on how often the win comes from each possible victory condition in the game. Achievements are the main way to win, so it makes sense that they make up the majority, but there are other methods that I've recorded here.

One closing thought. There are a lot of games out there that I've played a few times, and then thrown in an expansion or two. These days, the idea of playing Dominion or Legendary without expansions is unthinkable. But I'm now sitting at 67 plays of Innovation without ever touching an expansion. And that's not because I don't have them. I own all four. They're sitting in a box on my shelf, waiting patiently for the day when I'm tired or bored of the original game and want to change things up. But I have no idea when or if that'll happen. The base game is just so much fun to explore. Maybe I'll celebrate my 100th game by using an expansion. That might be cute.
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2. Board Game: Middara: Unintentional Malum – Act 1 [Average Rating:8.71 Overall Rank:1319]
Board Game: Middara: Unintentional Malum – Act 1
Plays: 20
Plays last year: 2 (#55)

Last year, I had just started this epic campaign when I wrote this list. Two sessions had gotten us through the tutorial (3 encounters) and partway into the first chapter. Since then, we've progressed all the way to chapter 5. We're now in the last chapter before the ending of Act 1. That's right. We played 22 sessions in a little over a year, amassing over 90 hours of total play time, and we're only a third of the way through the story.

In that time, I've grown immensely fond of this game. In terms of size, scope, and gameplay, Middara most closely resembles Gloomhaven. However, there's one major difference. Gloomhaven draws its inspiration from "western" RPGs. It functions like a Dungeons and Dragons game, only the game itself is the GM. Or so I've read, I haven't actually had a chance to try it out yet.

Middara is based on JRPGs. We spend half the game listening to the story, with only occasional choices to introduce minor changes to the plot. The rest of the time we fight through encounters.

Middara's actual gameplay is that of a tactics game. Each enemy has its own card that explains its AI, and its up to the players to take advantage of the AI by using their own skills and abilities to achieve victory. And let me tell you something about skills and abilities! Each character has a single innate ability, but everything else can be customized. The game includes five unique discipline trees that characters can progress through by spending experience points. In addition, each character can equip up to 8 different pieces of equipment, and can carry a bunch of consummable items. Your equipment is almost more important than your disciplines for developing your character's "build."

In other words, the role playing "focus" of this game is not on your character's motivations and behaviors, it's on equipment and discipline customization. The game has hundreds of available equipment cards, creating limitless combinations that you can experiment with.

But the game is also quite difficult. Everything that happens in combat depends on dice, which means a string of bad luck will leave you dead no matter what you're holding. The most effective builds I've seen have ways to mitigate bad dice rolls by rolling often.

That all may change. Midway through our campaign, the creators launched a Kickstarter to produce and publish Acts 2 and 3. In that time, they've collected a lot of data about what worked and what didn't in Act 1, and they've modified many rules to make the game more balanced. My friends and I have stuck with the original rules for our playthrough since our character builds are all designed around those rules, but maybe we'll shift things up when Act 2 arrives.

Actually, while the size and scope of the game feels like Gloomhaven, the actual gameplay is closer to Mice & Mystics. The modular boards, customizable character builds, and engrossing story . . . this is the realization of Mice & Mystics' potential. I'm really looking forward to seeing what comes next in this game!
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3. Board Game: Ra: The Dice Game [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:1407]
Board Game: Ra: The Dice Game
Plays: 13
Last year: 25 (#2)

Innovation is my 3rd most-played game, but Ra: The Dice Game is #1 by a mile. It's hard for me to express why. For some reason, this specific dice game has just the right amount of strategy to balance out the luck factor. Sure, sometimes games end in a blow-out. But most of the time games are pretty close. I've played the game so many times now that it's almost second nature.

What this game REALLY needs is a reprint! It's such a light and fun game. Like, you could make your own print-and-play copy easily if you wanted, but it seems like it shouldn't take much for Rio Grande to print off a few thousand copies and make a tidy profit. RA got a reprint not too long ago, maybe this one will come too?
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4. Board Game: Sagrada [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:147]
Board Game: Sagrada
Plays: 12
Last year: 7 (#10)

Sagrada is my favorite new game from 2017, and I've really enjoyed sharing it with as many friends as possible. Everyone I've taught it to has enjoyed it immensely. This is another one of those games where the basic gameplay is so much fun that I haven't had any interest in trying out the expansions yet. But I've heard they're pretty good, especially the one that lets you add a 5th or 6th player. Maybe I'll get there someday.

If you want to read more about what makes Sagrada such a great game, why not check out my review at: https://www.toplayornottoplay.net/post/sagrada
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5. Board Game: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 [Average Rating:8.62 Overall Rank:2]
Board Game: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
Plays: 10
Previously: #1 (2017)

I'm going to go on a bit of a tangent here. I really enjoy re-reading books. I have book on my shelf that I've read 3, 4, or more times. Heck, it's a miracle my copy of Good Omens is still in one piece now that I've read it more than 20 times . . .

The same is true of video games. Sure, you can play a game like Super Mario or Pac-Man over and over to try and get a high score. But I replay adventure games and rpgs like Zelda, Metroid, and Pokemon all the time. There's a few reasons, I'm sure. I enjoy picking up on the clues and foreshadowing that I may have missed the first time. And establishing mastery of the game's systems is often pretty fun.

Which brings me to Pandemic Legacy. This game was designed to be a self-contained experience. After 12-24 games, the story is complete. And much of the game revolves around surprises and plot twists, so you'd think that replaying the game wouldn't have the same feeling.

And, in one sense, you're right. There's nothing like that moment when a major twist happens and you feel the shock course through your body. But you know what's almost as good? Watching that happen to your friends! Over the years, I've gotten really good at keeping spoilers secret and letting my friends make long-term decisions without any hits about what the future holds. At least, I assume I'm good at it since I keep getting invited to join in my friend's campaigns!

This year, I joined some friends who started their campaign several years ago, but then had to put it aside for a year. When they got around to restarting, some of the friends they had begun the campaign with were no longer available, and they asked me to join in. I couldn't refuse!

And it was still really fun! In a way, each box of Pandemic Legacy contains 12 different scenarios that you get to play once or twice. But unlike other scenario-driven games, the events of the previous games have a significant impact on each subsequent scenario. In one game I played, the Middle East experienced so many outbreaks early in the game that it became a nearly impassable wall in the middle of the board. In another game, South America was the hotbead of disease but it was kept contained so that the rest of the world was fairly easy to manage.

I guess what I'm saying is that I enjoy the scenarios and mechanics included in Pandemic Legacy, not all of which have made the transition to other Pandemic games and expansions, so replaying the campaign creates the opportunity to play with them again.

I enjoyed this game so much, I made it my first review on my new blog! If you want to read more about this amazing game, why not check it out?
https://www.toplayornottoplay.net/post/pandemic-legacy-seaso...
 
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6. Board Game: San Juan [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:283]
Board Game: San Juan
Plays: 10
Last year: 4 (#25)

Like Innovation, San Juan is one of my favorite card games. And like Innovation, you can play it with multiple people. But my favorite way to play is as a two-player head-to-head battle of wits. The two-player variant for San Juan is really strong and well-balanced. At WBC, the tournament is exclusively two-player games, and it uses the "Variant" rule where the first player gets dealt 5 cards while the second player gets 6, then both discard down to 4 before the game starts. This really helps mitigate the luck of the draw in the early game, and generally ensure that while you may not have your ideal start, you'll certainly have something you can do.

This year, I managed to advance all the way to the Finals at WBC before succumbing to a then five-time champion. You can read more about that match in my WBC write-up from last summer. Losing in the finals was disappointing, but at least I got a 2nd place plaque to add to the wall!

Outside of WBC, I don't get to play this game often. It's not terribly well-known by my friends and it's not on the online clients I frequent most often. And, well, when you're at a board game party, why would you play a two-player game? This got to the table much more when I could just play with my roommate. But I still manage to get some practice in by playing against the AI on the app. It's not perfect, but it can beat me sometimes which keeps me from getting complacent.
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7. Board Game: Unearth [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:1112]
Board Game: Unearth
Plays: 9
Last year: 6 (#16)

Unearth caught my attention at Gen Con 2017, and it quickly gained popularity among my friends. On the surface, it's a fairly simple dice game, but it adds just enough to the game to make it fun and interesting for people regardless of experience level. And while I prefer some games as a 2-player experience (Innovation, San Juan, etc.), Unearth scales perfectly for 2, 3, or 4 players. Every game is fun and exciting.

And, since I demoed the game at Gen Con, I have a special promo pack of extra wonders and ending cards, which keeps every game feeling unique. But I think the thing that makes me happiest is that I've never had anyone say "No, I'm not really feeling that right now" when it gets suggested. I have so many games that have a sort of niche appeal that makes them hard to get to the table. But Unearth seems to have an open invitation.

You can read more of my thoughts on Unearth in my review!
https://www.toplayornottoplay.net/post/unearth
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8. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:96] [Average Rating:7.62 Unranked]
Board Game: Dominion
Plays: 8
Previously: #25 (2018)

Back when Dominion first came out, my friends and I played it ALL the time. Within a year or so we had to buy sleeves for our set because the cards were getting worn out to fast. For several years, I dutifully played each new expansion when it was released: Intrigue, Prosperity, Alchemy, Seaside, Cornucopia, Hinterlands . . .

In recent years, I just haven't played it much. Like most deck-building games, it's much faster and easier to play electronically than in-person, and for a while there wasn't a great browser-based version of the game. There was an unlicensed app for a while, and Isotropic had a version, but they were taken down quickly. Brettspielwelt, a german gaming website, had a decent version, but it only had the base set plus a handful of cards from a few of the expansions. Part of Dominion's appeal is the variety of available cards, and exploring the new potential combinations that each set up provides.

And then online gaming became a much larger priority for me for obvious reasons. One friend, a huge Dominion fan, suggested we try out Dominion.games, and it was amazing! It's everything I would have wanted out of an online client to play Dominion. You can easily set up games with friends, it's free, and the interface is pretty good, all things considered. Okay, it's not 100% free. You can play the base set of Dominion (2nd edition) with a free subscription. But if you buy a membership you get access to all the expansions. EXCEPT! Right now, they're doing a small promotion to help everyone who's stuck at home away from their gaming buddies. Each day, a different Dominion Expansion is unlocked for free users to enjoy. Thanks to this, I've gotten to play games with Hinterlands, Dark Ages, and the newest expansion Menagerie! That's been really cool, and I think this site may become a mainstay for me even after life returns to normal.

Some random thoughts about the various expansions: Hinterlands is fine, but still not my favorite. Dark Ages is WEIRD. The only time I won a game was in a super aggressive setup where I won 6 - 6 - 1 - 0. Talk about a low scoring game! And the one game with Menagerie was interesting. The new event cards seem really cool: these are cards that you can pay to use, but don't get added to your deck. They just have an immediate effect. I'd be interested in playing with them a few more times to get a better handle on them.

Anyway, if you'd like more of my thoughts on the actual game, why not check out my review?
https://www.toplayornottoplay.net/post/dominion
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9. Board Game: Hanabi [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:378]
Board Game: Hanabi
Plays: 8
Last year: 6 (#13)

Here we are, the first game on the list that I don't actually own. The reason is simple: this game is so popular these days that everyone else already has a copy. Literally, all of my board game friends have a copy, so why should I get my own?

Also, Hanabi is on Boardgamearena, so it's gotten some extra love there. Interestingly, Hanabi is one of the few cooperative games on BGA. So when my friends and I aren't really feeling competitive, this is one of the few options available.

What's interesting about this game is that everyone has their own conventions and preconceptions about how to play. Some groups I've played with always discard the oldest card first, others discard the newest card (not kidding). Some will always give a hint about 5s in hand, others will only give a hint if it provides information about 2 or more cards. Hanabi is far from my favorite game, but it is a fascinating and challenging experience.
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10. Board Game: Kingdomino [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:214] [Average Rating:7.36 Unranked]
Board Game: Kingdomino
Plays: 8
Last year: 7 (#8)

I think I've gotten worse at Kingdomino. Or my friends have gotten better. Maybe both? Either way, I've lost a lot of games of Kingdomino this year . . .

Kingdomino remains a delightfully family friendly title. I taught my parents to play and they seemed to enjoy it, so that's a plus. And, right now, you can play it on boardgamearena.com, which is a great bonus during a stay-at-home situation. I expect to see this staying moderately high on this list for some time.
 
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11. Board Game: 7 Wonders [Average Rating:7.76 Overall Rank:58]
Board Game: 7 Wonders
Plays: 7
Last Year: 6 (#12)

This is one of the few games on this list that I've played both virtually and in real life this year. One reason this game appeals is that, well, it's been around a while and all of my gaming friends know it already. With so many thousands of games coming out every year, sometimes it's nice to take a break and play something everyone already knows.

Of course, there are always expansions. My local friends have all played 7 Wonders many times, so to keep it interesting we throw in both the Leaders and the Cities expansions. Sure, each one makes the game a little longer, but the result is a more engaging and dynamic game.

And then this year I got to try out the Armada expansion. Armada adds an extra board for each player where they can advance their boats along one of four tracks to gain other bonuses. Unfortunately, several players had a time restriction, and adding a brand new expansion made the game take too long for us to be able to finish. So it goes. I thought the new expansion was pretty cool, though, so I'd be down to try it again sometime.
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12. Board Game: Ex Libris [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:614]
Board Game: Ex Libris
Plays: 7
Last year: 1 (#93)

The first time I played Ex Libris, I fell in love with it. This game is filled with jokes that crack me up every time. The game play is exciting in a way that alphabetizing library books shouldn't be, thanks to the constant changes in worker placement locations from round to round. My greatest disappointment was how rarely it made it to the table.

So this year I decided to really push this game. I brought it to multiple game nights and taught a bunch of friends how to play. And it was a hit! Everyone I taught it to enjoyed it, and several asked me to bring it back to play again. Now that's a success!

One of the best things about Ex Libris is that it scales beautifully for 2-4 players. I haven't tried solitaire mode yet, but given how good the game is otherwise, I imagine it's just as much fun. I'm just really happy that I got to play this game so much this year!

And hey! I also reviewed this game!
https://www.toplayornottoplay.net/post/ex-libris
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13. Board Game: Arkham Horror: The Card Game [Average Rating:8.19 Overall Rank:20]
Board Game: Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Plays: 6
NEW!

Whoa! A new game approaches!

Long-time readers know that I'm a pretty big fan of the Arkham Horror series of games despite their many flaws. I wasn't interested in an LCG version of the game, but Shut Up and Sit Down's excellent review convinced me to give it a shot.

So I picked up the starter box, and then it sat on my shelf for a year as I searched for someone to play with. The starter box only has enough cards for 2 players max, so I just needed to find one person. Meanwhile, several friends picked up multiple copies of the starter box to play a full 4-player campaign. Since then, they've played every expansion that's been released, and they've had an absolute blast!

I'm glad they've had such a great time, but unfortunately that greatly reduced the pool of candidates to try this game with. Yes, I know you can play it solitaire, but I'm really not much of a solitaire boardgamer. I've got a plenty of great single-player video games to spend time with. I use board games as a way to interact with other people.

Finally, last summer my friend Jon visited me for a week, and we spent a day playing through the starter campaign. And it was great! Most Arkham Horror games feel like a series of unrelated strange things that happen until you complete the arbitrary win condition. But this game's narrative is focused. The locations and characters feel real, and it makes each encounter feel meaningful.

The actual gameplay is quite fun too. Like other LCGs, this is a sort of deck-building game. Between scenarios, you can adjust the contents of your deck. You can think of it as a collection of the resources, tools, and attributes that your character may have access to at a given time during the scenario. It doesn't always make sense. Yes, if you're exploring a house, maybe you found a flashlight in a room that you can now use. But if you're wandering around a forest at night, you won't just stumble upon a flashlight with working batteries, right?

Once you ignore the thematic inconsistency of using a deck of cards to manage your skills and inventory, though, the result is compelling and fun cooperative experience. You get to work through difficult puzzles using the tools at hand. Another great addition to the series is the "chaos bag." Instead of rolling dice to resolve an effect, players draw a token from the chaos bag to add some sort of modifier. This is a fantastic innovation because it gives designers a lot more freedom adjust difficulty. You can make the game easier or harder by adjusting the ratio of tokens in the bag, and by including special tokens that have scenario-specific results.

That being said, this game isn't perfect. You really need to purchase two copies of the starter set to have enough cards to build two decks that are strong enough to complete the basic scenario on harder difficulties. My friends who have played the full campaign recommended skipping that, and just getting the first large expansion, as well as the first three small expansions, which provides enough cards to build some decent decks. I'm a little disappointed that Fantasy Flight has made the expansions so essential to having a good experience, even in the first campaign, but I can't blame them for wanting to sell more product.

This is definitely a game I'd like to play more of, but I'd need a more stable partner to play with before I consider investing more money into the series. And, well, I'm kinda full up on campaign style games right now between Middara and Pandemic Legacy. I don't expect this to hit the table much until that happens sometime in the future.
 
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14. Board Game: The Fox in the Forest Duet [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:1705]
Board Game: The Fox in the Forest Duet
Plays: 6
NEW!

The Fox in the Forest Duet is the newest game in my collection, and it's already proved to be a fantastic addition. I love trick-taking card games, but they really work best with four players. The original Fox in the Forest solved that problem by adapting the genre for just two players in fun and easy to learn format. But some of the most popular trick-taking games are designed for teams, like Spades or Bridge. The Fox in the Forest Duet is the answer, a two-player cooperative trick-taking game.

This game captures the feeling in Bridge where you try and pass the lead back and forth with your partner while you aim for your goal. In this case, each trick moves your marker some number of spaces along a forest path, but if you go too far in one direction you'll get lost. If you get lost too many times, you'll lose, so you have to play efficiently.

One thing I love about this game is how challenging some of the cards are to master. For example, the 3 of each suit allows a player to change the trump suit by swapping the decree card with a card from their hand. How will a change affect your partner? Will they be stuck with nothing but trump cards when they desperately need you to win the next couple tricks? Who knows. The 7 of each suit lets you trade a card in your hand with one in your partner's. And now you have to trust that your partner will use the card at the right time . . .

Since I'm just spouting random thoughts, The Fox and the Forest Duet is one of the first games I've played in recent memory that pushes back against a certain trend in hobby game design. For decades now, games published in Germany, and now the rest of the world, have featured their designer(s)'s name on the box. Ted Alspach, Vlaada Chvatil, Stefan Feld, Reiner Knizia, and many more have nearly become household names among board gamers because their names are inexorably tied to the games they designed.

But The Fox and The Forest Duet does not have a designer's name on the box. In fact, if you read the credits in the rule booklet, the Designer is listed as "Foxtrot Games." According to their BGG page, Foxtrot Games has started designing games internally as a studio. Which is cool . . . but a dangerous precedent to set. I have family that work in the film industry, and I've learned a lot about its history as a result. One of the major problems in early Hollywood was that film studios did not always provide credit for everyone who worked on a show. Sure, the big names would get recognized, but what about the costume designers, make-up artists, special effects technicians, film editors, etc? They were all just employees of the studio. And if one got fed up with working for a studio and sought work elsewhere, they was very little proof of the work they had done. They could say they did makeup for a film, and they could prove they were employed by the studio that made that film, but they could have working on a different set for a different show and the person looking at their resume would have no idea if they could believe them or not.

It took a lot of effort, but eventually we got to the point we're at today: where every person who works on the film is listed in the credits. I'm worried that the members of Foxtrot Games who are working in this studio setting will have difficulty getting credit for their designs if and when they seek work with other publishers. This is all a long way of saying I respect the people at Foxtrot Games for exploring game design, and I love what's come out so far. But I think they really should include the names of everyone who works on the design in their credits. There's nothing wrong with a joint design between 3, 4, or more people!

AAAaaaanyway, if you want more of my thoughts about the game itself, check out my review!
https://www.toplayornottoplay.net/post/the-fox-in-the-forest...
 
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15. Board Game: Star Wars: Rebellion – Rise of the Empire [Average Rating:8.87 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.87 Unranked]
Board Game: Star Wars: Rebellion – Rise of the Empire
Plays: 6
Last year: 5 (#20)

This year, I finally got a chance to try the Rise of the Empire expansion for Star Wars: Rebellion. Rise of the Empire does a few things to the game. It adds some new leaders for both sides largely drawn from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It adds new mission cards for each side, new objectives for the Rebels, and new units for both sides. It also provides completely new rules for combat.

That last bit is the controversial thing about the expansion. The original game's combat is one of the most heavily criticized things about it. It's largely just chucking dice, with some occasional cards thrown in. Many people believe that it drags the game on. Personally, I had no issues with the combat. Yes, sometimes an overwhelming force rolls badly and ends up losing a battle it should have won. So it goes. I found that to be a feature, not a bug. Since combat can be so unpredictable, the players are encouraged to avoid it. But the Empire must capture the Rebel Base, and the Rebels need to win some battles to fulfill their objectives. I found that this tension made things more fun, and reduced the number of lengthy battles to just one or two each game.

The expansion introduces special tactics cards that are tied to specific combat units. Before each round of combat, the players can select a tactics card for that battle. Once a card is used, it's no longer available for the rest of the game until the other tactics cards have been used up. This gives players important decisions to make before every fight. I'm . . . just not a fan yet, I guess. I found that the tactics cards made combat longer as I poured over my choices instead of just rolling the dice and making the best of it.

But I seem to be in the minority with that opinion. Perhaps this is because I just haven't played this game enough. I have friends who have played dozens, if not hundreds of times. Meanwhile, I just hit play #20 this year. This is just not the type of game most of my friends enjoy, and a three-hour, two-player game is not really the best choice for a larger gathering.

Anyway, you can read more of my thoughts about this amazing game in my review!
https://www.toplayornottoplay.net/post/star-wars-rebellion
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16. Board Game: War of the Ring: Second Edition [Average Rating:8.48 Overall Rank:11]
Board Game: War of the Ring: Second Edition
Plays: 6
Last year: 2 (#65)

I am very happy that my favorite game managed to move up the list this year! 6 games is pretty good for a massive experience like this. How did I accomplish this? Simple, a couple friends informed me that they were interested in learning the game, and asked me to teach them to play. I only manged to play two games with one of them, and one with the other, before life got in the way. Still, I enjoyed every moment of it, just like I do every time I play this awesome game.

At WBC, I got the other three games in. I got a warm-up game in with my friend Sean, then won my mulligan round game to advance to the single-elimination, where I lost to my friend Ty. It happens, but it has made me want to get better at the game. Really, I just need to play it more . . . any volunteers?
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17. Board Game: Werewords [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:775]
Board Game: Werewords
Plays: 6
Previously: #18 (2018)

I abhor hidden role deduction games. Werewolf? The Resistance? Secret Hitler? No thank you. But Werewords brings a cool twist to the genre. Instead of just arguing over who's being suspicious and assigning blame, Werewords makes players actually try and solve a puzzle. Basically, they ask yes or no questions that the mayor has to answer to try and guess a word in 5 minutes. But the werewolves know what the word is, and they can ask misleading questions to lure the villagers off the trail.

That's the bulk of the game. It's so simple, but it works so well. You get the fun of lying and trying to figure out who's on your side and who isn't. But you don't have agonizing minutes of arguments, instead you have direct actions you can take to figure out the answer or discern who is actually being suspicious.

If this piqued your interest and you want to read more, (say it with me now check out my review!
https://www.toplayornottoplay.net/post/werewords
 
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18. Board Game: BANG! [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:1253]
Board Game: BANG!
Plays: 5
Last year: 1 (#72)

I played this game A TON in college, and some of my newer friends have just discovered it, so I've found myself playing it again more. When I was in college, we always played with the Dodge City expansion. With more characters, extra cards to play with 8 players, and the special "delayed use" green cards, I really enjoyed the game. Moving from that to the base game has been kind of disappointing. The expansion was just really fun, and the base game feels a little too simple without it.

Also, I used to play the first edition of the game, or the Deluxe "Bullet" version. But my friends now have the 4th edition, which is a very strange experience. It comes with these playmats to put your character and role cards on, and then has spaces for you to use little bullet tokens to track your health. Which feels really weird since the character card back art has bullets for you to track your own health. And the playmats have a space for you to put your gun upgrade cards, which is nice, but then people get confused when they have other blue cards. I've spent more time answering questions about if you can have a horse and a gun due to the confusing playmats than I ever had to with the first edition.

I guess what I'm saying is the 4th edition feels over-produced. The game was fine in the first-edition, and they just added random unnecessary stuff to ostensibly justify a 4th edition. The game just needed a new printing.

That being said, the game itself is still just as fun as always. Maybe I'll have to pick up the expansion for my friends sometime . . .
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19. Board Game: Codenames: Pictures [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:313] [Average Rating:7.27 Unranked]
Board Game: Codenames: Pictures
Plays: 5
Previously: #13 (2017)

Of all the Codenames variants I've tried, this is my least favorite. But I went to a couple board game parties this year where my choices were this or Secret Hitler, so I went with the lesser of two evils.

I just much prefer Codenames as a word puzzle than a picture one. And the art on the Codenames: Pictures cards just don't do it for me. I think I would like it more if they were colorful, though I understand there's some risk of people using colors as clues. This version just doesn't satisfy me.
 
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20. Board Game: Potion Explosion [Average Rating:7.16 Overall Rank:431]
Board Game: Potion Explosion
Plays: 5
Last year: 1 (#120)

Huh, a resurgence for this game. I actually haven't opened my copy of the game in nearly 3 years now. The only time it sees play is at my friend's house. The game is fine, nothing wrong with it, but I do feel like there's some dissonance between the actual game play, and the type of game it is.

In theory, this game seems like a something that you just goof around with. It has tracks of marbles, and you take one out and see what happens. In practice, my friends and I find ourselves spending minutes staring at the marble tracks looking for the optimal play that will get us all the marbles we need that turn. It may seem like this should be a light and silly game, but it really isn't.

And it's currently in Beta on Boardgamearena, so now there's yet another way to play this delightful game.

If you want to read more, here's a review I wrote! www.ToPlayOrNotToPlay.net/post/potion-explosion
 
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21. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.76 Overall Rank:57]
Board Game: Race for the Galaxy
Plays: 5
Last year: 6 (#14)

Another year, another bunch of Race for the Galaxy games. This year, I wasn't able to play in the WBC tournament much, I only got in for one heat out of four. Instead, I found myself playing more games with my friends. And it turns out my friends who like the game are REALLY good at it, so I had a hard time winning!

In fact, the only game I did win was when I decided to try playing against a random opponent on the app. Generally, I just play against the AI on the app. It's got remarkably good AI (on Hard) that can usually beat me. For that one online game, we used a bunch of expansions, some of which I barely know. But my instincts carried me through and I managed to pull off a win.

So . . . I can win against some rando on the internet, but against my friends in person, I'm struggling. I think I need more practice against humans!
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22. Board Game: 6 nimmt! [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:595]
Board Game: 6 nimmt!
Plays: 4
Last year: 4 (#21)

It's been a really long time since I last played this in person. But it's on boardgamearena, and it's pretty fast and easy to play, which means its become a go-to for me and my friends. This usually gets pulled out as something simple to wind down the evening. It supports a large number of players and it's terribly difficult. Just pick a card and see what happens.

 
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23. Board Game: Call to Adventure [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:904] [Average Rating:7.27 Unranked]
Board Game: Call to Adventure
Plays: 4
NEW!

While I was at WBC, one of the vendors had this game on display and it caught my attention. I'm fascinated by storytelling games, and I was intrigued by this game that promised the opportunity to create your own character's story. Despite a self-imposed moratorium on acquiring new games without playing them first, I picked it up.

And I was very happy with the decision! It turns out this game was launched on Kickstarter, and it had all the high quality components I would have expected. Beautiful card art, awesome "runes" in place of dice, and delightful player boards.

The rules were a bit confusing at first, and my first few games didn't quite follow the rules correctly. But eventually I got them straight, and the experience has been great. Unfortunately, I haven't yet really played the game with the same group more than once. I'm always teaching, and not really exploring. Plus the game has all kinds of awesome mechanics that I haven't touched yet, like allies, villains, and a cooperative mode. I look forward to spending more time with this one in the future.

Oh hey, another game I reviewed! Check it out:
https://www.toplayornottoplay.net/post/call-to-adventure
 
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24. Board Game: Can't Stop [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:720]
Board Game: Can't Stop
Plays: 4
Last year: 5 (#18)

Last year, I went on an absolute tear in Can't Stop. 4 wins, 1 loss? Heck yeah! This year, my good fortune caught up with me. So it goes. Can't Stop is still way too exciting and fun for how simple and dumb it is. And it's on boardgamearena, so if we don't play 6 nimmt to wind down or kill time, we probably play Can't Stop instead.
 
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25. Board Game: Galaxy Trucker: Anniversary Edition [Average Rating:8.19 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.19 Unranked]
Board Game: Galaxy Trucker: Anniversary Edition
Plays: 4
Last year: 3 (#30)

If you look at some of my older posts about Galaxy Trucker, there's a common refrain: most of my friends won't play this game with me anymore because I'm "too good." You'll also notice in the stats below that I lost nearly every game of this I played. But there's a common thread: I won playing with the base game, I lost every game with expansions.

See, the thing about Galaxy Trucker is that as you get to know the game, you start internalizing what's available and what you might face. I have a pretty good sense of what tiles are in the basic game, and I can rapidly build an effective, sturdy, and fast ship without much trouble. But that's no fun, the best part of the game is when your ship crumbles to dust around you as you desperately struggle to reach safety.

And that's what the expansions are for. They introduce more challenges, more possible tiles, and greater rewards for adventurous truckers. I really just need to play more with the expansions to get better with them.

Incidentally, my one victory was at WBC, which advanced me to the semifinals! That game used the first expansion, and I managed to come in second. However, half the semi-finalists didn't show up, so a second was good enough to advance to the finals, which used the first two expansions. I ended up in last place, so I finished 4th overall at WBC. That means I've gotten 3rd and 4th place at WBC in Galaxy Trucker, making it one of my better events. What a weird thought . . .
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