'Spiel des Josh' Award: 2010 Edition
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Recommend
341 
 Thumb up
13.26
 tip
 Hide
The Spiel des Josh is my annual roundup of what I think are the best games of the year. It's a living award, and I continue to assess and adjust past lists whenever I discover an overlooked game, or whenever my assessment of a game takes a major shift.

Here are links to all the other Spiel des Josh lists currently available:

2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 all prior years

As always, the first ten games listed are the "official" 2010 Spiel des Josh selections, ranked in order starting with the best. The entries following the first ten are for thoughts and discussion on other games from 2010 that I've enjoyed (and some that I didn't especially enjoy).
Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
  • [+] Dice rolls
1. Board Game: Dominant Species [Average Rating:7.85 Overall Rank:51]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb




The Spiel des Josh winner for 2010 is Dominant Species, designed by Chad Jensen and published by GMT Games. This is the first Spiel des Josh win for Chad Jensen. His previous game Combat Commander: Europe made the Spiel des Josh top ten in 2007. This is the second Spiel des Josh win for GMT, who also won with Twilight Struggle in 2006.

I don't think I can discuss Dominant Species without going back and referencing another Spiel des Josh winner from 15 years ago, 1995's El Grande. El Grande was a landmark game in the modern history of our hobby. It currently sits at #11 on the BGG rankings, and if you look at the ten games ranked higher, you'll see that they all came out at least ten years later! The basic format of El Grande has been imitated and referenced countless times over the years. But never so beautifully as 2010's Dominant Species.

I submit that Dominant Species is a state-of-the-art hardcore gamer's version of El Grande. The magic of El Grande was not just plopping cubes into regions and scoring 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place whenever a scoring round rolls along. Many games have done that sort of thing. No, the magic was in the jockeying for the special game-breaking actions that put the game state in constant flux, and provided countless ways of screwing up your opponents' plans. Dominant Species has the same kind of fun in the box.

But of course, Dominant Species is more than just Advanced El Grande. It combines the best parts of El Grande with the smooth menu selection / action drafting / worker placement of games like Caylus, Agricola, Age of Empires, and seemingly every other game released over the past five years. That sort of system works best when it creates the feeling that there are three or four or five things you absolutely must do right away, and you might be totally screwed if you don't get to do them. Agricola, for example, gets this right. Most of the other games in the genre get it wrong. Dominant Species gets it right.

And for all its mechanical beauty, Dominant Species also features an organic, compelling theme that meshes amazingly well with the game systems. I really do feel like I'm doing the sort of things I ought to be doing in a game about protean creatures that are adapting, surviving, proliferating, dominating. My role is that of a god-like shepherd and provider for my creatures. I'm not just guiding their actions. I'm also shaping the world itself to create an environment where they can thrive.

What a marvelous game!



Special Honors
The Massive and Imposing Granite Trophy - Best Gamer's Game of 2010
also considered: Troyes, First Train to Nuremberg

The Yellow Toddler Stomp Boot - Best Game of Conquest, Trampling, and Smashing of 2010

The Cardboard Rabbit Hole - Most Effective Presentation of Theme and Setting of 2010
also considered: The Resistance

The Harmony of the Wu Xing - Best Five-Player Game of 2010
also considered: 7 Wonders

92 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
2. Board Game: Innovation [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:283]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb



I flip-flopped between Dominant Species and Innovation about a bajillion times for this year's Spiel des Josh winner. I like the two games equally. Ultimately, I decided on Dominant Species because I think it has broader appeal.

Innovation is quite clearly not a game for everyone. It demands one's attention on the level of a true gamer's game, but it features an extreme level of chaos and unpredictability that is bound to frustrate many strategy gamers.

Here are a couple valid but incomplete points of view on Innovation:

HATER: This game is no more than a really convoluted version of Fluxx. Totally random and pointless!

CHAMPION: No, you don't get it. Play it more, and you'll see that you actually have a lot of control once you learn the cards and the strategies!

Since I love Innovation, you might think I subscribe to the second point of view. I do not. Yes, the game does become more fascinating and comprehensible as you learn its patterns. Yes, with continued play you will see how cerebral and challenging the game can be. But this is not a game for those who like to be in control. The game's charm is, in fact, the way that it is constantly threatening to spin out of control. What's astonishing, though, is that it never quite does spin out of control. Well, almost never. There is usually some sort of rejoinder for any pattern of attack, some sort of reversal lurking behind any beatdown. Usually. Not always. If not . . . well, then game will be short and you can play again.

Playing with two players helps. The three-player version is waaaaaay more chaotic than with two. With three players, I don't pay very close attention to what my opponents are doing and just play very casually. With two players, I use actual strategy and stuff.... The four-player version is neat (with the partnership rules), but you burn through the deck very quickly. The expansion will probably help in that regard, just by adding more cards.

If you love drama, surprise, managing chaos, and adapting to novel situations, then you need to check out Innovation. If you prefer elegant, balanced, stable games of methodical strategy (The Princes of Florence, Automobile, most eggertspiele games, most classical abstracts), then Innovation is probably not the game for you. If you've played Carl Chudyk's earlier game Glory to Rome, your opinion of that game is probably a decent predictor for your opinion of Innovation.


Special Honors
The Amazing Male Uterus - Most Innovative or Original Game of 2010
also considered: Troyes, Dominant Species, Hanabi & Ikebana

The Brain-Shaped Grenade - Best Puzzler or Brainburner of 2010
also considered: Merkator, Haggis, Hanabi & Ikebana

The Extremely Thin Trophy - Best Card Game of 2010
also considered: Hanabi & Ikebana, 7 Wonders, Haggis

Das "Ich und Du" - Best Two-Player Game of 2010
also considered: Haggis, 7 Wonders
54 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
3. Board Game: Troyes [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:68]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb



Troyes is a weird game. At its core, it's what I call an "Ystari game" for lack of a better term. I'm referring to the type of game in which the players take turns doing small actions: earning money or influence or victory points or goods, or converting one of these into another, or putting a dude on the board that will generate more of these things later on. Caylus is the obvious example, but many of the games published by Ystari follow this general pattern. They are games that give players a broad menu of actions, and challenge them to use those actions in the most efficient way possible.

I typically don't like that style of game, so my labeling something "an Ystari game" is usually a criticism. But Troyes features one marvelous innovation that makes it truly interesting. In Troyes, the menu of actions is contained within each player's handful of dice. And we're not just talking about dice with action icons like War of the Ring. In Troyes, each of the three colors of dice can be used for several different actions. The effects of these actions will depend upon the number of dice you're able to use, the numbers showing on those dice, and the particular cards available on the board.

While playing Troyes, I've found that almost every turn presents tricky decisions. It's difficult to know what to do first, because other players can purchase your dice right out from under you, and of course you can do the same to them. There are a couple different ways to manipulate the numbers on the dice, but you're only allowed to modify your own dice. This means that rolling "badly" is sometimes better than rolling "well." Your good rolls will quickly be scooped up by your opponents, while your bad rolls can be changed into good rolls once you're ready to use them.

Troyes is remarkably polished and developed for a game from a new publisher and three young designers (Sébastien Dujardin, Xavier Georges, and Alain Orban). But there are a couple minor points that some gamers might call flaws. First, going early in the turn order is a strong advantage, and despite a rotating start player, not everyone gets an equal crack at it. Secondly, there is occasional strangeness surrounding the secret patrons that will award points for various achievements at the end of the game. You can try to predict which patrons will score based on your opponents' actions (each players knows about one of them, but everyone scores for each patron that's in the game). But if one of your opponents is doing a poor job of catering to their patron's whims, then you'll probably guess wrong, and the point awards may feel arbitrary or random.

Neither of these minor flaws bother me very much, but I mention them because those who demand a perfectly balanced game may feel differently.



Special Honors
Sumo Westbank's G@mebox Cabinet of Friends - Best Middleweight "German School" Game of 2010
also considered: Merkator, Firenze, The Mines of Zavandor

The Baker's Pair - Best Three-Player Game of 2010
also considered: Merkator, 7 Wonders, Dominant Species

The Roll of a Lifetime - Best Use of Dice of 2010
also considered: Lords of Vegas
61 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
4. Board Game: Hanabi & Ikebana [Average Rating:7.50 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.50 Unranked]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb


New list item, added August 7, 2011

I was finally able to track down a copy of this hard-to-find set of two card games from designer Antoine Bauza. I'm sure glad I did!

The highlight of the package is Hanabi, a cooperative game of encoded communication, deduction, memory, and risk management. The players have to play their cards to the center of the table in a very specific order. But you must hold your cards so that everyone can see them except for you. As a group, you must figure out how to signal each other about which cards to play or discard. And there are very strict rules about what you are allowed to say, and when you are allowed to say it. You'll often feel like you don't have enough information to make a smart play. But that's what gives the game its wonderful tension. Hanabi is an absolutely brilliant game design, totally different from any other cooperative game on the market. The night I first cracked it out, we played seven times! The ultimate cooperative game for nerds? Probably.

The "lesser" game in the package is Ikebana. It's a very fast, very light game of risk evaluation. A good comparison would be Knizia's Circus Flohcati, but better and more nuanced. As with that game, you'll be deciding when to lay up and when to make the aggressive play. For a game that relies so heavily on the luck of the draw, Ikebana is actually quite interesting. I wouldn't buy it on its own, but it's a nice bonus with the excellent Hanabi.

Special Honors
The Dainty and Adorable Trophy - Best Quick Filler of 2010
also considered: Forbidden Island, Clara's Garden, Safranito, Mr. Jack Pocket, 7 Wonders, The Resistance

The Certificate of Participation - Best Cooperative, Team or Semi-Collaborative Game of 2010
also considered: Forbidden Island, The Resistance

The Thingamabob Doodad - Best Gaming Oddity of 2010
also considered: Nestortiles, Safranito, Innovation, Onirim

Note that there will be a new edition of Hanabi at Essen 2011. This version does not officially include Ikebana, but all you would need is some extra chips or pen and paper for keeping score.

6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
5. Board Game: 7 Wonders [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:43]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb



7 Wonders may just be the most versatile game in my collection. It's easy to play, only lasts about a half an hour, and scales equally well from 2 to 7 players. That's a valuable game that slides neatly into a lot of different situations.

There just aren't many games for six or seven players that play as smoothly and effortlessly as this. It works so well because you really only need to pay attention to your immediate left and right neighbors. Because of its facility at handling a large table of players, I think a lot of gamers mostly play 7 Wonders at the upper end of its player scale. But if you've never tried it with just two or three players, you should!

At the lower player scale, there's more opportunity for planning and more ability to steal valuable cards from your opponent. Getting passed each deck multiple times definitely adds some meat to the game. The two-player version is the meatiest of all. With two, both players alternately control a neutral third player. You'll want to use the dummy player to help yourself and screw your opponent - which proves to be a lot harder than it sounds.

I'll be interested to see what the expansion(s) do to the game. Designer Antoine Bauza's expansions for Ghost Stories (a game that I respect but don't particularly enjoy) have gotten good ratings, so I'm hopeful.

Special Honors
The Well-Tempered Kazoo - Best Light Strategy Game of 2010
also considered: The Mines of Zavandor, Forbidden Island, Firenze

Amongst Our Trophies are Such Elements as the Unexpected Spanish Sixth Player - Best Six-Player Game of 2010
also considered: The Resistance

The Slate and Clamshell - Best Art Design of 2010
also considered: Forbidden Island, Key Market, Nestortiles, Merchants & Marauders, Dominant Species, Onirim, Troyes, Fresco, Navegador
43 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
6. Board Game: First Train to Nuremberg [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:1430]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb



First Train to Nürnberg is a new and improved edition of Martin Wallace's 2009 game Last Train to Wensleydale. The previous edition finished just out of the running in my 2009 Spiel des Josh list (it was basically tied with Shipyard and FITS for my #10 game of 2009). But First Train to Nürnberg is an easy choice for my top ten this year.

d10-1 It's much cheaper and more available than Last Train to Wensleydale!

d10-2 It includes the entire Last Train to Wensleydale game on one side of the board.

d10-3 The other side of the board introduces the First Train to Nürnberg version of the game, with some new rules and a very different (more open) feel.

d10-4 This version of the Wensleydale board resembles neither dried vomit nor cancerous human organs.

d10-5 The game now scales appropriately for three players, thanks to dual-sided boards that limit the number of trains and action discs available each turn.

These five factors combine to make this a much better game than Last Train to Wensleydale. If you own the original version, don't hesitate to sell it and buy First Train to Nürnberg instead.

Now that we finally have the definitive edition, I can state that I think First Train to Nürnberg is Martin Wallace's finest game since Age of Steam.

Be warned, though, that the rule book is terrible. It doesn't even tell you which configuration of the boards you should be using with different numbers of players. I'll save you the trouble of searching in vain for this missing information. For the two smaller boards, use the sides labeled iii-iiii for 4 players, and the sides labeled ii-iii for 3 players. I have no idea why they both indicate that they're suitable for three players - they're not. For the main map board, either side (Wensleydale or Nürnberg) is suitable for either three or four players. The game also claims to support two players, but I have stern doubts.

Special Honors
New Paint and Custom Rims - Best Remake or Spinoff of 2010
also considered: Forbidden Island, Inca Empire
23 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
7. Board Game: Haggis [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:712]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb



Tichu is my all-time favorite game. Haggis is a climbing game somewhat similar to Tichu, so I may be predisposed to like it. On the other hand, I tend to judge climbing games harshly because most of them aren't nearly as good as my beloved Tichu. In fact, Haggis is the first such game that I think is worth owning and playing [EDIT] Oops, I forgot about the lightweight climbing game Frank's Zoo, which I also think is worth owning and playing.

As a Tichu fanatic, it's interesting just how differently Haggis plays. The strategies and patterns and principles that work for Tichu don't necessarily apply to Haggis. In addition to their randomly-dealt hand, each player also starts with the same three powerful cards: an unsuited Jack, Queen, and King. These can be played as high singleton cards, wild cards, or two or three of them in combination as a bomb. Knowing how and when to use these three cards is the most intriguing and most difficult part of Haggis. There is often a game of brinksmanship surrounding these face cards. Once you've used them, you're usually in a weak position, so players will often try to hold them for as long as possible.

Haggis is a game for two or three players, unlike Tichu which is a partnership game played with four players. Haggis was originally designed as a two-player game, and then adapted to also work with three players. The two-player game is a bit cleaner and a bit better in my estimation. It's also very enjoyable with three, but in that format it often becomes more of a political game with a great deal of kingmaking.

The bottom line is: if you're an admirer of Tichu, then you need to give Haggis a taste. It's an ambitious and well-crafted game that does much more than just try to simulate Tichu for two or three players. Kudos to designer Sean Ross and publisher Indie Boards and Cards.

Consolation Prize
Babelfish Prize for Most Curiously Named Game of 2010

41 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
8. Board Game: The Mines of Zavandor [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:2176]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb


The Mines of Zavandor is a light-to-medium game of bidding and economic engine building. It uses many of the same concepts as The Scepter of Zavandor, but in a much more compact, much less intense, much more interactive format. (Note that this game is from a different designer, Alexander Pfister.) Once players learn the flow of the game, The Mines of Zavandor only takes about an hour to play. It does a really good job of packing a lot of mental and social satisfaction into that hour.

To me, The Mines of Zavandor feels like a gamer's version of Catan. MoZ features much less luck and greater scope for planning, but retains the trading and the unpredictability the makes The Settlers of Catan appealing. There is also an additional psychological layer of trying to predict your opponents' actions that makes MoZ even more interactive than The Settlers of Catan. You have to strike at the right time, with the right amount of force, while also withholding the right resources for future use. Personally, I'd much rather play The Mines of Zavandor than The Settlers of Catan!

Special Honors
The Tro-lo-lo Trophy - Game That Most Exceeded My Expectations in 2010
also considered: Forbidden Island, The Resistance, Lords of Vegas

24 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
9. Board Game: Merkator [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:848]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb





As you can obviously see, Merkator made my top ten list for the year. But it was an uphill struggle. Just getting the game played required no small effort on my part. It's almost as if the publisher went out of their way to make this game look as boring and lifeless and dry and unappealing as possible.

Let's start with the name. Merkator. Seriously? Could you get any more generic and bland? (The answer is no, you could not.) Maybe it plays better in German?

Next, look at the box. I dare you to imagine anyone looking at that and think, "Wow, this game looks great, let's play this!" It's a stuffy guy just sort of standing aimlessly off to the side of . . . nothing in particular. With a sepia/gold tone that makes it look like something your great-grandfather might have played as a child.

Okay, it couldn't possibly be as bad as it looks. Let's crack it open and check out the board. Hmmm, some boxes with lines drawn between them. It looks like a prototype, not a finished game. Two flimsy pieces of cardboard that aren't connected and don't stay aligned very well.

After seeing all this, who would be excited to try the game? Surely only those that know a lot about the industry - enough to know that this designer has produced some top-notch games recently.

And even those who press on, undeterred by the game's appearance and aura, will encounter a game that is almost as dry as it looks. It's a game of untangling a stream of little logistical knots. It's something that might appeal to a tax auditor or an overqualified telephone receptionist. You probably need to be a little bit anal retentive to like this game - but not too anal retentive, or you'll be frustrated by your inability to form a stable long-term plan. Merkator is a game where you're constantly throwing out the old plan and making a new plan. You don't have very much control over which contracts will be available to you. So you better figure out how to squeeze a profit out of whatever mismatched parts you can find.

Now that I've thoroughly savaged Merkator, let me state that I do find all of this to be very enjoyable! I like improvisatory games; the type that presents you with a semi-random jumble of stuff and asks you to create an imperfect synthesis out of all those odds and ends. It's a big part of what I enjoy about games as diverse as Race for the Galaxy, Factory Fun, Tichu, Macao, Babel, Twilight Struggle, and even BuyWord. Add Merkator to that list.

I'd also like to note that Merkator plays very well solitaire if you're ever in the mood for that sort of thing. Of the recent Uwe Rosenberg games, I would the Merkator solitaire game rates behind the At the Gates of Loyang solitaire game, but ahead of the Agricola and Le Havre solitaire games. Which is basically the exact opposite of how I'd rate them as multiplayer games (Agricola/Le Havre best by far, then Merkator, then Loyang which I'd frankly rather play solitaire than multiplayer).


Consolation Prize
Inspector Clouseau's Prize for The Bumbling Game That Succeeded in Spite of Its Best Efforts to Fail
24 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
10. Board Game: Safranito [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:1411]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb


New list entry, added August 7, 2011

At one of our Grand Rapids all-day Saturday game days, I watched some friends playing this bizarre game where they were tossing poker chips onto a board covered with Indian spices, trying to land in the right places to get the right spices at the right prices. Yes, it's a dexterity game and a light economic game. But mostly a dexterity game.

I watched that game from start to finish, but couldn't tell whether it was stupid fun, or just stupid. But the weirdness factor attracted me. So I decided to buy the game, figuring that I could re-sell it for about full price if it sucked, since it wasn't widely available.

Safranito has exceeded my expectations, proving to be a real hit with the family and in casual settings. I was afraid that the rules for buying and selling spices would be too game-y for such a light and silly game, but they aren't. The game is simply fun, providing a great blend of action, humor, and screwage, with a splash of strategy.

Special Honors
The Athletic Cup - Best Action or Dexterity Game of 2010
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
11. Board Game: Difference [Average Rating:5.40 Overall Rank:14529]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
The ten games listed above are the official Spiel des Josh selections for 2010, although I reserve the right to change them in the future. There are at several that I definitely still want to play. Maybe one or two of these will eventually find its way into the top ten? Or maybe not. They are:

[Update August 7, 2011] - Hanabi & Ikebana moved into the top ten, above. London (first edition) now has its own list entry, below. Added Grand Cru and Hearts and Minds: Vietnam 1965-1975.

[Update May 5, 2012] - Added Catacombs and Earth Reborn. Downgraded Chariots of Fire and Symbol. I've managed to trade for copies of all of the remaining high-priority items except for Key Market, so watch for updates soon.

[Update May 7, 2012] - Key Market now has its own list entry, below.

[Update November 11, 2012] - Grand Cru is a real gem ... maybe. It could eventually find a place in the year's top ten if it proves to be strategically balanced. (Still not 100% sure after 3 games.) See my write-up under the last item of the list, below.





In addition, there are a number of games that I won't seek out, but that I may end up sampling at some point. I doubt there are any personal favorites to be discovered from this list, but there is at least some potential that I would enjoy them. Listed alphabetically, they are as follows:

Asara
Bhazum
Chariots of Fire
Famiglia (no longer interested)
Flicochet - minor but fun game, see last list item
Fresco
Jäger und Sammler (no longer interested)
Keltis: Das Orakel - much better than Keltis, see last list item
Magical Athlete - dumb but kind of fun, see last list item
Magnum Sal (no longer interested)
Ottoman Sunset - not very good, see last list item
Safranito - Made the top ten! See entry above
Sun, Sea & Sand (no longer interested)
Symbol
We Must Tell the Emperor - much better than Ottoman Sunset, see last list item
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
12. Board Game: Forbidden Island [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:605]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb



New list entry, added July 6, 2011

Somehow I forgot to include Forbidden Island when I first composed the list. Forbidden Island is easily good enough to have made the top ten this year, but I decided to leave it as an honorable mention since I already honored Matt Leacock's very similar game Pandemic in 2008. (At the time of writing this entry, Pandemic sits at #4 on that year's list, behind Say Anything, Le Havre, and Dominion.)

I initially dismissed Forbidden Island. It was being described (accurately) as a simplified Pandemic. Pandemic gets regular play around here, but it's on the lighter end of our preferred range. I didn't see the need for an even lighter version. I thought, "Yeah, I can see a simplified Pandemic being a very successful product in the marketplace, but a game geek like me probably doesn't need to check it out." I was enjoying Pandemic more as it moved into more complex territory with the introduction of Pandemic: On the Brink, so why bother going in the other direction?

But I was wrong. Forbidden Island creates the same kind of spark as Pandemic. The streamlining does forfeit a bit of the nuance of Pandemic, but it also allows for a sharper and cleaner focus on the core elements that make the game system great. You can probably knock off two games of Forbidden Island for every one game of Pandemic. And this is a game that works very well in that more compact format. I would say that I enjoy Forbidden Island just as much as vanilla Pandemic, because I can play it with a wider variety of people. With gamers, Pandemic with the expansion is definitely the most satisfying version.

I haven't had much success introducing Pandemic to casual gamers and children. It's a light game, but it's a light game for gamers. In other words, it's no Carcassonne or Ticket to Ride; it's Dominion or 7 Wonders. Fobidden Island is a different story altogether. It's approachable in a way that Pandemic is not. It eliminates all the slightly tricky rules pertaining to outbreaks, research stations, and using the cards to travel. It also asks players to display their cards openly, which adds clarity to the game. The lack of private information also makes it abundantly clear that this game is a group puzzle - perhaps making it more vulnerable to a domineering, bossy captain who likes to order everyone around. That's a problem with any of these cooperative games, though, and the best solution is not to play this type of game with that type of personality.

I really enjoy the way that the geography of the island changes every time you play Forbidden Island. Different configurations require different approaches, and I enjoy discussing which portions of the board might be expendable. I highly recommend trying the variant island layouts, which can produce very challenging and interesting games.
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
13. Board Game: Key Market [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:1503]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb




New list entry, added May 7, 2012

I've only played Key Market once, but based on that one play, it's a legitimate challenger to Key Harvest as my favorite game of the Key Series. This one isn't as opaque as Key Harvest, but it's still a gamer's game that demands planning and careful attention. Key Market is a game about managing the size and efficiency of your work force. Money is very tight, which means you're constantly employing fewer workers than you would like, and having to sell more goods than you would like. You'll also be making tricky decisions about how to manage the turn order, which guilds to pursue, and when to start retiring your workers.

Key Market does appear to allow multiple viable approaches to solving these problems - although they will all involve investing in one or more guilds in the early game and retiring workers in the late game.

I'm happy to see several random elements in the setup (guilds, fields, seasonal variations). These should keep the replay value reasonably high.

2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
14. Board Game: Nestortiles [Average Rating:7.17 Unranked]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
This is joint entry for the NESTORTILES game system and the game Clara's garden, which uses the tiles.




NESTORTILES are interlocking foam tiles that can be assembled into boards, dice, clusters, or other shapes. The standard set includes 60 tiles, numbered 1 through 6, in 10 different colors. They are available from Spanish micro-publisher nestorgames at a very reasonable price. The tiles have a great deal of visual and tactile appeal, and I think there are probably some great NESTORTILES games waiting to be unlocked by creative designers.

So far, though, there's not a lot that has been released for the system. There are currently about a dozen games. I've played almost all of them, and in my opinion, most of them are not very good.

There is one, though, that I think is excellent. It's called Clara's garden, designed by Richard Malaschitz in collaboration with his daughter Clara. It's kind of like a compressed, intensified Hey That's My Fish, but with the added urgency to claim specific high-valued tiles in colors that you haven't yet collected. After you've played once, I recommend adding the advanced rule to auction turn order position.

There are two other NESTORTILES games that I think are at least somewhat interesting.

Nestortiles DUEL is designed by the system's inventor and publisher, Néstor Romeral Andrés. It's a very light and capricious game of bidding on tiles and forming them into dice. After all the tiles are bought, you roll your dice just once and see who has the highest total in each color. The whole affair takes just a few minutes.

Cuboid is designed by abstract game connoisseur Stephen Tavener. Players slide and rotate cube-shaped monsters around on a colored grid, gobbling any tiles that match the top surface of their cube monster. Hardcore abstract gamers will definitely want to check this one out, although personally I found it to be too hard to visualize the sequence of moves needed to get the cube monster into the right position with the right facing. Someone willing to apply a little more effort and analysis would probably find Cuboid to be a nice little challenge.

I'm working on a couple of my own ideas for the NESTORTILES system. We'll see whether I end up with anything interesting. But even if I don't, the tiles themselves deserve credit for compelling me to try.

Special Honors
The Nondescript Cube - Best Abstract Strategy Game* of 2010
* I use a broad definition of "abstract strategy game" that does not preclude multiplayer games or games with random or hidden elements.

The Sad Phantom - Overlooked or Undiscovered Game of 2010
also considered: Onirim, Firenze

18 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
15. Board Game: Onirim [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:963]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb



Onirim is a solitaire card game from designer Shadi Torbey and Z-Man Games. It can also be played as a two-player cooperative game, but I think it works better in its solitaire format.

Onirim has a very surreal "dreamscape" theme, and beautiful, evocative artwork to match. It's a puzzle-y game where you're trying to play sequences of cards that will unlock eight dream doors. This would be quite easy if not for the nightmare cards, which force you to choose one of several nasty effects whenever they appear. All of this fits together wonderfully, creating a smooth game with some tricky decisions. The tension level is good, with lingering uncertainty about whether you'll be able to achieve victory before you burn through the deck.

What really pushes Onirim over the top is all the different modes of play that allow you to tweak the difficulty and complexity, and throw a different spin on the decisionmaking. The game comes with three modular expansions that can be added to the game alone or in combination. And in case that isn't enough, each of these expansions has a standard and a hard difficulty. I count 27 different ways to play Onirim - and that's without even considering the two-player versions.

That's a lot of game for about $8 to $10. If you have any interest in solitaire games, you should investigate Onirim. My only warning is that there's a lot of shuffling during the game. I don't find the shuffling to be onerous, since you're usually just mixing in one or two cards to an already-randomized deck. But some players may disagree.


Special Honors
The Diamond Solitaire - Best Solo Game of 2010
also considered: Merkator, We Must Tell the Emperor, Forbidden Island
39 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
16. Board Game: The Resistance [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:187]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb


The Resistance, designed by Don Eskridge, is a game that is very clearly inspired by the party/parlor game Werewolf. I don't like Werewolf. At all. In fact, I hate Werewolf with a burning passion. It seems completely pointless to me, because unless the werewolves have miserable poker faces, there really is no information upon which to base your lynching decisions. So the game invariably devolves into a drawn out session of oration and pleading and unprovoked low-level roleplaying.

The Resistance is probably about as good as a game of this genre can be. It has the psychology and bluffing that Werewolf fans will want, along with actual strategy, deduction, finesse, timing, tension, and other desirable game qualities that are so notably missing from Werewolf. The Resistance is still not a game that I would personally request, but I'm happy and willing to play it. And that should be considered a high compliment coming from someone who so utterly detests Werewolf. I may even pick up a copy. It's cheap, and I can foresee circumstances when it would be a nice game to have available.

I wish I could tell you which player counts play the best. Some numbers are usually better than others for games like this, but I haven't played enough to offer an opinion.

Special Honors
The Award That Was Only Trying To Be Affable - Best Party or Social Game of 2010
also considered: Forbidden Island, Safranito

28 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
17. Board Game: Firenze [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:774]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb



There weren't very many mainstream Eurogames that attracted my interest in 2010. The only game in my top ten that might fit that description is 7 Wonders. Possibly also Merkator or Troyes if you're especially broad in defining the category. My favorite of the more "traditional" Euro school games was Firenze by Andreas Steding (Hansa Teutonica, Norenberc, Kogge).

As someone who has been playing German games (among others) for about 15 years now, I may be more jaded and curmudgeonly when it comes to this style of game. I don't even sample very many of them any more, unless there's something about them that looks unusually innovative or appealing. The long list of 2010 mainstream Euros that I didn't even bother trying includes: Fresco, Asara, Rattus, Navegador, Tikal II, Norenberc, Constantinopolis, Grand Cru, Settlers of America, Mystery Express, Isla Dorada, Florenza, Dragonheart, and many others.

There's nothing especially new in Firenze, but its attractions include:

d10-1 Colorful, appealing wooden tower pieces that are a pleasure to hold and stack. This is probably the most important factor, honestly. The board is also beautiful, in a painted Florentine Renaissance style. The box is kind of ugly, though, and the card art is merely average.

d10-2 A mechanically sound game system that emphasizes tradeoffs between collecting a lot of pieces, collecting the right colors of pieces, and getting the most useful cards. The system also challenges players to assess the risks and benefits of building towers quickly or slowly, and taller or shorter.

d10-3 More opportunities to sabotage your neighbors' efforts than you'll typically find in this kind of family-weight Eurogame.

I did have to sleeve the cards and print out translations to insert in the sleeves. It wasn't too much trouble, but Z-Man has announced that they'll be releasing an English language edition at some yet-to-be-determined date. The German edition was only $25 at Funagain Games when I bought it. I consider Firenze a great buy at that price, but I'm not sure I'd bite at $35 or more.
11 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
18. Board Game: London (first edition) [Average Rating:7.39 Overall Rank:275]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb


New list entry, added August 7, 2011

London is not a great game, but it is among the best and most replayable of Martin Wallace's Treefrog line of games. In the short two weeks that I owned the game before trading it away, I played five times. That was more play than I've gotten from any of the other Treefrog games, which usually seem to be fun for one or two plays and then crash hard. I enjoy figuring out which cards I want in my city, and the wonderful draft/expend card display system helps make the decisions interesting. I don't think the two-player game works very well. Four is best, provided you have no slow players.

There seem to be two main approaches to the game. The first is to cycle through the stages of buying one or two boroughs, playing cards, and running your city. The other approach is to buy several boroughs right away, discarding most of the cards instead of playing them, then running your city repeatedly in the late stages of the game. The second approach will definitely win if it finds most of the best permanent, non-flipping cards: Omnibus, Omnibus, Lord's, British Museum (all from B deck) and Natural History Museum, Grand Hotel, and either Public Houses or Parliament (all from C deck). Unfortunately, this latter approach is robotic, ham-handed and uninteresting. London is a card game, so it doesn't bother me that favorable draws will sometimes (usually?) determine the winner. It does bother me, though, that one of the two major strategies circumvents all the interesting tactical parts of the game. I prefer to play with four players because this strategy is very weak with that number.

My second criticism of London is that the game system is too damped and constrained. Play falls into predictable patterns, with no opportunity to break loose. Your task is to identify and manipulate small efficiencies within the tightly scripted game flow. This scripted play really highlights the game's lack of depth. There isn't enough room to maneuver around the luck of the draw, and there isn't enough opportunity to outplay your opponents.

Some players will also criticize London for its very limited player interaction. For me this is a feature rather than a bug. But if you were disappointed with the level of interaction in games like Saint Petersburg, Race for the Galaxy, or 7 Wonders, then you will be similarly disappointed with London.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
19. Board Game: Lords of Vegas [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:360]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb



Lords of Vegas is not a game that I normally wouldn't have tried. I haven't had much luck with its design team, Mike Selinker and James Ernest, and it's sporting the ugliest-looking box I've seen in quite a while. Also, Mayfair Games doesn't tend to get the prime-grade meat that publishers like Rio Grande and Z-Man and Fantasy Flight attract, unless we're talking about train-themed games or Catan games. None of this was encouraging. But my buddy Bruce claimed it was good. I had not forgotten that Bruce actually liked the pile of junk that was called Gloria Mundi (from the same designers), and that he owns most of the Cheapass line, so I frankly didn't trust his opinion in this particular matter.

But I agreed to play, and Bruce was right. Lords of Vegas is a good game. It's also a very random game, but it was more of a fun-random than a frustrating-random. And since it's a game about gambling and casinos, shouldn't we expect it to be kind of random? I've still only played that once, so I won't say too much about the game. But I did enjoy it, and I would be happy to play again.

I did feel like the game may have lasted just a bit too long, but not terribly so.
22 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
20. Board Game: Dweebies [Average Rating:6.00 Overall Rank:5082]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb


I would normally list a game like Dweebies under the "Borderline Games" section in the final list item. But I'm giving it an entry of its own because it's a nice game for younger children, and because I had some extra space on the list this year.

I don't recommend Dweebies as a game for adults. But judged as a children's game, there is a lot to like. The cards are colorful with fun illustrations. The rules are very easy to grasp. There's a strong memory element and a reasonable dose of tactics for a kids' game.

Special Honors
The Lead-Free Trophy With No Sharp Edges - Best Childish Game for Adults of 2010
(Yeah, even though I just got done saying I don't recommend it as a game for adults....)
15 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
21. Board Game: Dominion: Prosperity [Average Rating:8.28 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.28 Unranked]
 
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
 



I've purchased all the Dominion big boxes so far (Dominion, Dominion: Intrigue, Dominion: Seaside, Dominion: Prosperity), but neither of the small boxes (Dominion: Alchemy, Dominion: Cornucopia). Prosperity is the most interesting of all the boxes because it changes the game most dramatically. Going for the 10-point Colonies is just plain fun! The Colonies open the game to a broader array of viable strategies, and give players more control over the pace of the game.

I haven't tried any all-Prosperity games; all my plays have been a mix of Prosperity cards and older cards.

Special Honors
The Wreath and Crest - Best Game Expansion of 2010
also considered: Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War, Runebound: Mists of Zanaga
23 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
22. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War [Average Rating:7.78 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.78 Unranked]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb



I wasn't a big fan of 2009's Race for the Galaxy expansion, Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs Imperium. My complaints were (1) that the takeover rules were clutter that detracted from the game, (2) that the "combine with hand" explore power was not worth the annoyance and slowdown it caused, and (3) that the new start worlds produced too many runaway wins or stalled positions due to their narrower focus.

I still hold those complaints, but they were softened once I combined Rebel vs Imperium with 2010's expansion, The Brink of War. This final addition improves the balance by (1) making takeovers more interesting and more threatening, (2) making the "combine with hand" power more useful, and (3) fleshing out the mix of Rebel cards and Imperium cards.

So my view is basically that you should either stop after the first expansion (Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm), or go all the way and add both Rebel vs Imperium and The Brink of War. If you expect to be playing often with new players, these last two expansions are probably a step too far. But for Race for the Galaxy nuts who want a more challenging, more variable, more dynamic game, the fully-expanded game is awesome! The new concept of Prestige adds both depth and breadth to the gameplay, and the ability to search for a specific type of card as a critical juncture is much appreciated.

21 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
23. Board Game: Carcassonne: The Plague [Average Rating:6.54 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.54 Unranked]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
The Plague is a Carcassonne mini-expansion that was published in the October 2010 edition of Spielbox magazine.

I first tried it a couple times with just plain vanilla Carcassonne + The Plague, and it kind of sucks in that format. There simply aren't enough tiles in the game, so the Plague tends to engulf the entire board. Early and mid-game farmers will all be wiped out, turning the game into a contest to see who can drop farmer or two at just the right time late in the game to score the big field(s). Both games played out this way, and I was ready to rate this expansion a 4. (Note: If I ever wanted to play it again in this format, I would try removing some of the plague tiles and flea tokens.)

Then I tried adding The Plague to my normal Carcassonne set, which is Carcassonne + Inns & Cathedrals + Traders & Builders + the 5 tiles from King & Scout (without the actual King & Scout). And played this way, The Plague was a lot of fun! The much bigger board and the Builders give you the time and space you need to actually get stuff done and maneuver to avoid the fleas. And the more fragmented fields that tend to occur with the Traders & Builders tiles help keep the farmer scoring from totally dominating the game.

The Plague adds a lot of interesting tactical and even strategic decisions to the game, along with increased ability to attack the other players. More than any of the other Carcassonne expansions I've played, this one is geared for the hardcore ludophile.

I do have one principal reservation that keeps the expansion from earning a higher rating. Meeple supply management, which is such an important part of Carcassonne, is almost totally a non-issue with this expansion. The Plague sweeps away meeples who might otherwise become trapped, returning them to your supply. Next time I play, I'd like to try removing one meeple from each player's supply at the start of the game.

There is one other weird aspect of The Plague, and I haven't decided whether to view this as a bug or a feature. Once a Plague tile becomes inactive, that single is a permanent safe haven for the rest of the game. Maneuvering one or more farmers onto that tile can be very powerful!
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
24. Board Game: Small World: Be Not Afraid... [Average Rating:7.64 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.64 Unranked]
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I thought there were a lot of interesting game expansions released in 2010. Here are some of the ones I haven't yet discussed.



Days of Wonder has done a great job with the various mini-expansions for Small World, and Small World: Be Not Afraid... is my second-favorite behind 2009's Small World: Cursed!. The card deck Small World: Tales and Legends was also released in 2010. It makes for a wackier, more random game, and provides an interesting change of pace if you play Small World a lot.





The awesomely brutal Runebound: Mists of Zanaga has quickly become my favorite Runebound expansion. I've been playing this solitaire running two players, using the Relentless Rituals rules. If you use that variant (and you should with 1-2 players), ignore the part about the first three rituals retroactively triggering the omen effects on the primal god's card.





Space Alert: The New Frontier offers tons of new threats, a tougher "double action" mode of play for expert players, special abilities that differentiate the crew members, and an experience/achievement system for the most rabid of fans. I've only tried the special abilities and some of the new threats, and they're both great additions to the game.





Prophecy: Dragon Realm is an excellent addition to Prophecy that is now available in English thanks to Z-Man Games. It consists of four mini-expansions:

The Dragon Realm is the "Talisman Dungeon" of Prophecy. It adds some strategic options, but also extends the length of the game and sequesters characters from the action on the main board. I like it, but wouldn't want to use it in every game. Mixed feelings, but definitely a much better implementation than the disappointing Talisman Dungeon. Note that there is a printing error on the Z-Man version: one of the "light" spaces on the left track is supposed to be a "dark and light" space.

The Ancient Races are a good but nonessential way to differentiate the characters. One of the complaints some people have about Prophecy is that the characters feel bland and similar at the start of the game. Now there are some abilities in play from the very start of the game. Z-Man goofed, though, by choosing not to include the 10 character selection cards. As a result, it's unclear how players are supposed to assign the races.

I like all of the Additional Cards that are added to the main decks: 9 new adventure cards, 14 new items, and 3 new guardians (4 with the Dragon Realm). The best of these are the new guardians, because they add some uncertainty about which guardians you'll face. Previously, you'd always see the same 5 lesser and greater guardians. Now you'll see 5 out of a possible 7 in each class.

Finally, there's the Cooperative Game. Simply awesome. It really does give the game a different feeling. Deciding when to face the different guardians is tricky, as is figuring out how to bolster a weak character. I think I may like the cooperative version even better than the regular game, which I already rate 9 out of 10!





I didn't expect to see an expansion for Hansa Teutonica, but the Hansa Teutonica: East Expansion looks like it may very well be a better board than the original. I haven't played enough to be certain. This also includes a mini-expansion for the original board, but that part didn't look very interesting and I haven't tried it.





Cosmic Encounter: Cosmic Incursion is worth it just for the sixth player and the 20 new aliens. In addition, you get a "rewards deck" with some of the weirder cards from the old Eon and Mayfair expansions, along with some new ones. I think I like the decision to segregate these cards into a special deck rather than just throw them in with the rest - but I'm not completely sure, and I reserve the right to change my mind.





... and I'm disappointed to report that Agricola: Gamers' Deck and Age of Steam Expansion: California Gold Rush & Underground Railroad are still sitting on my shelves unplayed.
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
Joshua Miller
United States
Holland
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Okay, as usual I'll end with some pithy dismissive blurbs on the 2010 games that didn't thrill me. I apologize in advance for my flippant attitude toward whichever one of these games you treasure and adore, or whichever one you designed or published. You can't please everyone, and mine is surely the minority opinion on many of these.


Almost Made the List . . . But I'm Out of Room

Grand Cru (added 11 November 2012) - I was very impressed with my first play, but further play has raised possible balance concerns. Specifically: I'm not sure whether the slower-maturing grapes are viable with a group that knows what it's doing ... but I could be wrong. What I especially like about Grand Cru is the turn structure, and the fascinating (sometimes coercive) timing decisions it generates. The bidding for resources is interleaved with various other actions, with too little time to do everything you need to do. Auction prices are highly volatile depending on where players' attention is focused at any given time. The upshot is that evaluating the worth of resources, actions, and time is extremely tricky. If my concerns about balance are assuaged, Grand Cru is a contender for the year's top ten.

Keltis: Das Orakel (added 18 August 2012) - Much better than Keltis, which seems to almost play itself. Players have more control in Keltis Das Orakel, and are not as dependent on drawing the right cards. It's more about analyzing the board and executing advantageous sequences of moves. The intertwined scoring goals are more complex here, adding some subtlety to a game (Keltis) that was too transparent and calculable for my tastes.

Flicochet (added 5 May 2012) - Works well as a go-anywhere, play-anytime type of game. Dead simple, plays quickly, nice blend of shot-making and light tactics. Recommended.

Magical Athlete (added 22 Mar 2012) - Totally dumb game that I really want to like ... and I almost do. It takes about an hour to play, but feels like it wants to be a bit shorter game than that. Also, the art on the cards is wonderful, but the stand-up pawns are so narrow that a lot of the artwork is cropped out. For me, Magical Athlete is worth owning as another easy, low-overhead option for playing with kids and rules-allergic friends from work. The game critic in me says that Magical Athlete is not a good game, but it's possible that he is wrong.

We Must Tell the Emperor - I haven't been a fan of Victory Point Games' "States of Siege" solitaire system. But this one is actually pretty good - not great, but definitely the best of those I've tried. The resource system adds another layer to a system that needed another layer. It could probably still use another layer even beyond that one.

Mr. Jack Pocket - Mr. Jack and Mr. Jack in New York are brain-busting gamer's games. Mr. Jack Pocket is a quick, light, casual filler. The feel is similar to Mr. Jack, but without the strong spatial element, without the special character powers, and without a lot of the nuance and difficulty. You'll be doing some of the same type of reasoning: "If I take this action, then he can do this in response, which would make my move pointless, so maybe if I take this action instead. . . ." In Mr. Jack, things get complex enough that I'm rarely confident that I'm making the "best" possible move. In Mr. Jack Pocket, I usually have a pretty good grasp on what my best move would be. But figuring that out is fun, even if I do sometimes feel like I'm playing "Mr. Jack for Juniors."


Almost There . . . But Not Quite

Glen More - Initially intriguing, but faded quickly. Slow, boring accretion of resources with little interaction or excitement. Cheap looking components with muted, clashing colors.

Luna - Lacks focus and a sense of accomplishment. Try writing an interesting session report for this game. It can't be done, because it's basically "I did a bunch of stuff and then the game ended."

The Speicherstadt - Got a lot of play in our group, but I usually tried to get in the "other game." Your success seems to hinge on how much the others bid you up. Mildly clever, but also shallow, fragile, bland.

Organic Soup - Probably the best game about covalent bonds that has ever been invented! Faint praise indeed, but actually this is a decent game.

String Railway - A pleasant novelty activity. I'm not sure I see much of an actual game here. Possibly just enough game given its brevity.

Founding Fathers - Your hand cycles so quickly that it's hard to make any long-range plans or set up any clever plays. The most interesting decision each turn is deciding which cards I want in my hand for the following turn - which is not a good sign.

Washington's War - We The People was an important step in wargaming history, but unlike Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, it hasn't aged well. I just can't go back to this inflexible style of strategy cards after being spoiled by the multi-use cards of its successors.


About Average . . . I'm Indifferent

Alien Frontiers (added 17 November 2012) - Beautiful game that is somewhat enjoyable but not sophisticated or interactive enough to justify its current pace and length.

20th Century - Smooth-playing but boring game. The pace is slow, gains are incremental, and the necessary tension is just not there.

Antics! - The ant hill action system is very cool, but needs to be matched to a better game. Read my ratings comments for more snark.

Stich-Meister - I had hopes for this wacky trick-taker, but the scoring is flat and unexciting, and there just aren't enough creative or fun rule combinations.

Don Quixote - Some of my gaming buddies play this bingo-like game fairly often. I can't figure out why.


Thanks . . . But I'll Pass

Rattus (added 11 Nov 2012) - Whack-a-mole style random bashing without much opportunity for strategy.

K2 (added 13 Feb 2012) - Stale, mechanical game with very little scope for strategy or superior play.

Pressure Point (added 10 Nov 2011) - Seems to be designed to embarrass or frustrate people.

Ottoman Sunset (added 23 Sep 2011) - Very random solitaire game with few decisions. Too simplistic.

Mord im Arosa (added 7 Aug 2011) - A gimmicky novelty game, which is fine if you enjoy the gimmick. I don't.

Ascension: Deckbuilding Game - The constantly churning card menu means there's no capacity to plan ahead or think strategically. The decisions all feel very easy, and each turn feels about the same as the last.

Defenders of the Realm - Yet another imitator that doesn't comprehend what made its inspiration (Pandemic in this case) great. See also Ascension: Deckbuilding Game and Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?.

DungeonQuest (third edition) - The new combat system might be interesting in a different game, but it's a game-breaker here. DungeonQuest is a frantic race against the clock, and the sloooow card combat breaks that mood.

Vinhos - I haven't actually played Vinhos, but watching it being played was enough to convince me to stay far away from this bloated FrankenMess of mechanisms.


What the @&%# Were They Thinking?

Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ? - Mechanically overburdened game that fails to grasp what made Twilight Struggle so great. It also fails to grasp reality, with its frankly offensive neo-conservative propagandist version of recent history.

I'm happy to say that I played very few bad games this year. I'm being more selective about what I play in recent years, and not pressing myself to conduct a comprehensive survey of all the major new games.

---

Thanks for reading! Any comments, discussion, thumbs, or tips are greatly appreciated.
38 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.