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An Ameritrasher Looks at 2011
Josiah Fiscus
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The title may be somewhat misleading as I don't consider myself to be solely an Ameritrash gamer. (I play and enjoy Agricola, Dominion, Puerto Rico, etc. on a regular basis.) Nevertheless, most of the 2011 releases I played fall into that category. This is a list of every game/expansion I have played that came out in 2011. I have these arranged in order of least favorite to favorite, so if you want to see my favorite game of 2011, you'll have to scroll to the bottom.

A little bit about my tastes in gaming:

-I am a sucker for cool looking bits
-Sci-fi is probably my favorite theme
-I like games where I can kill something, but shy away from games with lots of backstabbing and ganging up
-Replayability is a huge selling point for me. A variety of starting powers, a modular board, different setups/scenarios are all great
-dice are DICE-TASTIC!

Some of my favorite games:

-Heroscape
-Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game
-Descent: Journeys in the Dark
-Nexus Ops
-Star Wars: Epic Duels


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1. Board Game: The Dwarf King [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:1884]
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Starting off at the bottom, this isn't a game I hate, but I'd almost always pick something else to play. It's a 5 for me by BGG ratings.

This is a relatively simple trick-taking game with a deck of only 3 suits. The cards are nicely illustrated and of good quality. They are extra-long, which makes them a bit unwieldy I think, but it's not a gamebreaker.

The scoring changes every round. For example, one round the blue cards might be worth a point each, other rounds they might lose you a point instead, and other rounds you might have a specific number of tricks to take with no regard for color. This is a nice twist, but the method by which the scoring is chosen is almost entirely random. Having players bid on the scoring method would have added a lot to the tactics of this game.

The other twist is that each round there is one special card added to the deck. It could be worth points for the person who takes it, it could be a trump, it could copy the last card played, etc. These add a touch of variety to the game, but really don't add much more in the way of strategy.

In fact, the scoring changes are actually a negative in some ways. Because some rounds have much higher potential for points than others, it is possible (and even likely) that the winner is determined before the last round is even played.

Ultimately, this game is simply too random for me to ever suggest playing it when there are much more strategic games that are just as easy to learn and only require a deck of cards. It's possible this could be a good game to bring out with non-gamers, but in that case, I wonder if the theme of belching dwarves and drooling goblins might not be a bit of a turnoff.

In any case, it's all uphill/downhill from here. Which ever one means "getting better from here."
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2. Board Game: Battleship Galaxies [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:2027]
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Seeing this one so low on the list might be surprising since it seems to check all the boxes for the kinds of games I like, but it just didn't work for me. Granted, I haven't played it a ton of times, but that's out of lack of desire, not lack of opportunity. This comes in at a 6 on BGG's scale.

The pieces look amazing, let's get that out of the way. They seem sturdy to me, and they look so good on the table. The board even adds to this with its star field design. The card illustrations have a comic-book style to them, which may be a positive or a negative for some people, but I think it works well here.

Any time you have asymmetrical sides, there are two things that need to be there for the game to work. Firstly, the sides should be balanced. That is, given players of comparable skill, the win ratio should be close to even. Secondly, and more importantly, the sides need to feel different in terms of how they play. Unfortunately, I think Battleship Galaxies fails at both of these.

Out of the box, the Wretcheridians (bad guys) seem to simply have better ships in terms of stats. They also have some very nasty cards. The good guys' ships seem weaker in general, but their cards are also much more situational. It is very easy to get stuck with a hand of cards that don't help in any way. Now I say "out of the box" because this is a somewhat customizable game. However, I'm generally not interested in sitting around coming up with the best army/deck/whatever. Even with Heroscape, we generally draft or use premade armies when we play. I can't fault the game for having the option for players to customize, but it shouldn't be necessary to enjoy the game. Others with a lot more games of BG played may take issue with this point, and I'll concede it's possible we just missed something of the strategy. I could forgive this if not for the second point:

The sides simply don't feel different enough. A point or two change in movement value doesn't make one team feel "more mobile." Nothing about the tactics of the Wretcheridians seems evil or underhanded. The only theme the game provides is in the included comic book, card illustrations, and sculpts. The actual narrative of the game doesn't tell a story because it feels like two similar (albeit unbalanced) sides just attacking each other.

Mechanically, movement rarely matters because of the range of ships. The special abilities seem unnecessarily complicated for the simplicity of the system. And I generally found my hand filled with useless cards. As discussed above, I don't think "well then customize your own deck" is a fair response to this.

All that said, the game does have some good things to offer beyond just eye candy. I know it probably sounds like I hate this game but that isn't true. It's simply that because it is such a highly-regarded game, I feel the need to explain my reasoning. The action point system is done very well here and makes you debate, sometimes agonizingly, over how to spend your limited-yet-constantly-refilling action point pool. The dice rolling works very well, allowing smaller ships to be harder to hit which is very thematic. There is great potential in the system for expansions, I just hope they do it in such a way as to create a balanced and fun experience right out of the box. I would absolutely give this one a second look based on how the expansions turn out.
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3. Board Game: Blood Bowl: Team Manager – The Card Game [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:247]
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While I also rate this one a 6, it slightly edges out BG for me. When I first heard about this game, I was intrigued. I've always liked the theme of Blood Bowl and I am big fan of Battleball. Mainly due to cost of entry, I've never played Blood Bowl, so I hoped this might scratch the same itch. Well it doesn't, but I don't think it's supposed to.

The concept of managing a team instead of actually controlling the players doing the skull-cracking sounds a bit boring by comparison. However, there is a bit more battling in here than you might think at first. The best thing mechanically about this game is the ball. Basically, battles take place by each player committing cards with various strengths to each battle. Add up the numbers, highest number wins. Simple, but boring. However, the ball really takes this up a notch. Each battle has a ball that the cards can fight over. It not only serves as two bonus points towards winning the battle, it also is a tiebreaker. Many of the special abilities on the cards revolve around taking the ball, forcing fumbles, etc. and this works very nicely.

However, I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of variety in the teams. Sure, they have different special abilities that give them a different feel, but their stats are almost all the same. Fully a third of the cards are EXACTLY the same across all teams, and there is some duplication beyond this. I think balance could have been maintained while still creating a bit more variety.

There is a minor deckbuilding element as well, which basically amounts to getting to add a random extra-good card to your deck a couple times a game. These "star player" cards are quite useful and have some special abilities not seen on any of the cards in the basic decks. I wish these would have been better integrated into the game, as they add a lot of interest to an otherwise samey game.

All in all, it's a nice effort, a good price, and some really well-written rules (no easy task in a game where players/players/plays/playing all mean different things). I just feel like it's a pretty fun game that could have been a REALLY fun game if they weren't striving so much for balance. Too much of that makes it sometimes feel like a game of adding numbers instead of a game of "kill-the-guy-with-the-ball".
 
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4. Board Game: Small World Underground [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:309] [Average Rating:7.31 Unranked]
Josiah Fiscus
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This was a tough one to rate because I like Small World a lot. However, when rating a game based on how much you want to play it (as BGG encourages you to do), the existence of better alternatives is going to drop a game in the ratings. This one comes in at a 6, but would probably be up at least a couple points if it had come out earlier (I rate the original Small World a 9).

Small World has a great mechanical structure to it. I think some people don't like it because they feel there aren't a ton of choices to make when it comes to actually moving your dudes around the map (and that's at least partially true), but the real game is about deciding WHOM to attack, when to take your civilization into decline (you get a turn of very few points, but you get a new strong civilization next turn), and most importantly, which civilization you want to use. You have 5 choices of race/power combinations but they each cost different amounts of gold. Having the most gold is how you win the game, so taking anything except the first civilization in the queue is going to mean sacrificing points now with the hope of getting more points later. There are tons of great decisions packed into a short playing time, and the cartoony theme really makes this fun for gamers and non-gamers alike.

All that said, if you have to make the choice to play Small World Underground or Small World, it's no contest: Small World wins by a country mile. SW:U has a less interesting map (removes even more decisions from troop movement as it adds features to the topography that are restrictive), special powers that run for a couple paragraphs instead of sentence or two (like the ones in the original), and even a rulebook that contradicts the included player aids.

Rated simply as an expansion for Small World, it's decent (though integrating them does require some rule changes), but I would recommend simply getting Cursed, Grand Dames, and/or Be Not Afraid, all of which are much better anyway. I can only recommend this to hardcore Small World players who are need more variety than the base game and the three aforementioned expansions offer. Otherwise, stick with the original as this one is pretty much the definition of "bloated".
 
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5. Board Game: Dungeon Run [Average Rating:6.30 Overall Rank:2654]
Josiah Fiscus
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Dungeon Run is my lone 7 for the year, which is certainly a respectable rating, so you know the best is yet to come. Save your fork.

Dungeon Run is a classic adventure style game where you explore a dungeon, find treasure, beat up monsters, etc. In a not-at-all-unique twist, you need to work together at first to defeat the boss monster of the dungeon, but since there can only be one winner, you start trying to kill each other afterward. Both the co-op-turning-into-competitive and the method of exploration via a tile stack owe a lot to Betrayal at House on the Hill, but even those mechanics have been seen elsewhere. Which is not to say that this makes them bad.

When it comes to components, this game really delivers. Nicely sculpted plastic figures, very thick room tiles, good card stock, great illustrations/graphic design that really set the mood while also being easy to read and comprehend.

There are some balance problems with the characters, no question. One character has an extremely high magic attack, but only a physical attack of 1. Some monsters and even one of the 4 dungeon bosses is IMMUNE TO MAGIC. So there is a 25% chance if you take this character that you will be all but unable to do anything to kill the boss (not to mention some other monsters). I suppose this is a ploy to make you have to work together, but not every character has this type of drawback, so it simply ends up being "some characters suck."

Strangely, the end game tends to be very swingy. Someone can be absolutely kicking butt the whole game and end up losing to a lousy die roll two steps from the exit. Conversely, I ended up winning my first game after spending most of it being chased around by the same monster and being unable to kill it (guess which character I had picked). This is undoubtedly an exciting finish, but it can sometimes border on anticlimax or perhaps even a feeling of a "cheap win".

Of all the generic things in this game (both mechanics and setting) the one thing that really stands out is the combat system. It's difficult to explain briefly, but it's extremely intuitive when you see it in action. Essentially you end up having to make some difficult choices about whether to spend your dice rolls killing the monster or simply fending off his blows (or some combination). In PvP, these decisions are even more interesting.

Lastly, while the game is undoubtedly fun (if sometimes frustrating), I'm not sure that it really delivers on what it sets out to do. It's often better to set off on your own than to stay in a group of characters. Yes, other players could help you kill a tough monster, but there's only so much treasure to go around. Similarly, the game end doesn't ever turn into "everyone get the guy with the treasure" as much as "you go get the guy with the treasure, I'll wait here and kill you when you get back." I think if you know what you are getting into playing this, you can have a really good time, but it will definitely not be everyone's proverbial cup of tea.
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6. Board Game: Skull [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:419]
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Kicking off the 8's, we have this little gem. Probably not as well known as some of the others on this list, yet it definitely deserves its place here.

This is a bluffing game in the vein of Pirate's Dice/Liar's Dice/Bluff/Perudo. Each player has 3 roses and 1 skull. Every round, each player puts one card face down, more cards may go on top of those, and eventually bidding begins. Bluffing is critical here, but there is really no probability calculation to do as there is in Liar's Dice. Depending on your preferences, that can be good or bad, but the feel of the game is very similar.

Another interesting aspect this game has that other similar games do not seem to provide is an element of groupthink. After a few games, or even rounds, it is easy to slip into "you should always start with a skull" or some other type of "right way to play". But of course, the only "right" way to play is to do what no one else expects. The look on someone's face when they turn over a skull you have placed down unexpectedly is priceless. Works well with various numbers of players, bigger groups will take longer though.

I'm working on a homemade copy of this game using wooden disks rather than the coasters in the real game, but it isn't quite finished yet. I'll keep you posted.

 
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7. Board Game: Risk Legacy [Average Rating:7.49 Overall Rank:249]
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This is one of the toughest games for me to rate, but I think it belongs somewhere in the 8-9 range. If you aren't familiar with Risk: Legacy, it's basically the revised version of Risk with some chrome added. And by chrome I mean stickers you place on the cards, permanent marker you use to write on the board, tearing up special powers, adding new rules to the rulebook, opening packets of cards, etc. The game itself changes every time you play. Of course, if you treat your games with white gloves, this concept is going to make you cringe a bit. Honestly, I don't even want to explain any more about the rules and events that happen because the whole fun is the surprise of it.

Risk: Legacy has created a completely new category of games, and it is awesome. It's probably the closest board game equivalent to that feeling of unlocking an achievement in a video game. When you get to open a packet and see all the new toys you get to play with the next game, it's a feeling almost like an addiction. You have to play again.

Well, a 9 in BGG terms is "I always want to play this". A 10 is the same but with the clause "I expect this will never change." Sadly, I absolutely expect this will change. The thrill of this game is opening up the new packets and trying them out. After 15-20 games, will we still want to play? Probably, but probably only occasionally. I think that Risk 2210 is going to remain my favorite Risk iteration when it's all said and done. This game is more of an experience than a game. I've described it like going to see a movie. It's fun while it's happening, but you can't experience it again without paying again. Most board games are more like buying the DVD.

Should you buy/play Risk: Legacy? Absolutely. I've never experienced a board game like this. Even if you don't like Risk, I think the thrill of this new system would be enough to warrant getting this. It's just still hard for me to say where it will ultimately end up another 10 or so plays from now.
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8. Board Game: Quarriors! [Average Rating:6.79 Overall Rank:716] [Average Rating:6.79 Unranked]
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Quarriors! is an excellent game that just missed my top 5 from this year. Dominion started a new genre of board game a few years back: deckbuilding. Quarriors! takes that concept and does it with dice instead of cards.

However, the differences it has from Dominion seem to be the things that sharply divide people. For example, Dominion is all about efficiency. You need to build an "engine" of cards that all support each other, get rid of the stuff in your deck that doesn't support it, and do so faster than anyone else. Quarriors!, by contrast, has less opportunity for getting rid of bad dice (and there are more bad dice to get rid of) and it is also much more about attacking other people. You are much more likely in this game to base your decisions around what other people are doing rather than trying to do the same thing better.

There are a few drawbacks, yes. I don't like the tin it comes in, the scoring track weaves around so that it is very easy to move to the wrong score if you aren't paying attention, and I wish it could support another player or two.

Even so, I see an incredible depth to the game, not to mention the sheer tactile fun of rolling all those dice. I think this game just gets better with more plays. You can do a successful swarm strategy, buying lots of guys that boost attack and defense of other units. You can go for a fast build-up of quiddity (the money you buy things with) to buy that huge dragon as soon as possible or even the die that scores you points directly. How many spells should you add? They are super-powerful, but creatures are so important both for culling (getting rid of dice) and attacking other players. I've seen builds with almost nothing but quick-scoring death dealers, I've seen builds with tons of tiny guys and portals to draw a ton of dice, I've seen builds with Witching Hags that keep recurring other Witching Hags and just won't die. This game has all the paths to victory, combos, and variety of Dominion (in its initial 25-card set) without all the boring min/maxing.

But, is it actually better than Dominion? I don't think so. It's just as fun, but there are times when it seems like a good roll or two early can decide the whole game. They are different enough to want to own both, but if I could only have one, I'd take Dominion. Actually, I'd take something later on in this list. Stay tuned.
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9. Board Game: Quarriors! Rise of the Demons [Average Rating:6.80 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.80 Unranked]
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This is the only expansion I've played from 2011 and it doesn't quite fit the list because of that. In fact, I don't rate expansions because the BGG numbers don't fit them very well. However, I did want to make a quick comment about this expansion in particular.

The corrupted quiddity is an interesting addition here. I expected it to be similar to curses in Dominion, and the dice themselves are actually pretty lousy. Still, many cards actually provide a benefit for having them. We played with the setup allowing us to use as many of the expansion cards as possible a couple times and it still never seemed like the game changed significantly. Only a few corrupted dice ever came into play and then were quickly culled. Even so, many of the new abilities are great additions, boosting some of the weaker dice and weakening some of the better dice. The Demon is a great addition, generally on par with the Dragon, and yet providing a great counter to it. My initial reaction is that this expansion does a great job of refreshing the game so that the same strategies don't dominate. However, I am still somewhat disappointed at the minor role the corrupted dice seem to play.

All in all, I think that it does a lot to counter the complaints of the base set that the Dragon is too powerful or there aren’t enough choices to make. It won’t change your mind about the game if you hated it, but it’s a great addition. They even made the numbers on the dice a bit more legible in this set, which is definitely a good improvement.
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10. Board Game: Chaostle [Average Rating:6.33 Overall Rank:7370]
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Another not-as-well-known game from a small publisher, Chaostle comes in at #5 on my top 5 games of 2011, with a 9 rating.

Let's get this out of the way right now: this game really did come out, for the first time, in 2011. Not 1985. Don't let the unicorn illustration fool you (it has laser gridlines behind it!). Don't let the vast amounts of plastic in the ginormous box fool you. This isn't an old Milton Bradley game like Battle Masters. Don't let the roll-and-move mechanics fool you. This game actually does have a lot to offer to today's gamers, at least gamers of the right ilk.

I need to tell a story here: a few years back, I stayed at a cabin for a weekend with a bunch of guys. We went boating, played football, played games and drank. At one point, we realized the cabin had a few games that were permanent fixtures there, one of which was a Disney-themed version of Sorry. We played it almost as a joke, but about halfway through, I realized I was having more fun than usual, even though I have played Sorry before. I realized why: it’s a lot more fun to watch Buzz Lightyear zap Winnie the Pooh with a laser to send him back home than it is to watch red land on blue. Making Pooh say “Oh Bother!” and bending him over in his cardboard stand so Buzz could take aim was probably the funniest thing on the whole trip. Well maybe not, but that’s another story. ANYWAY, Chaostle takes this idea to the extreme. This game is a lot like Parcheesi/Trouble/Sorry with the characters beating the snot out of each other. Instead of just landing on someone to send them home, you fight to the death using ridiculous weapons like Random Axe of Violence. Some characters have ranged attacks, all have special abilities, and horrible things happen to them all the time a la DungeonQuest.

Fans of DungeonQuest or Talisman (or perhaps even themed versions of Sorry!) will find a lot to like here. However, it is long, no question. Some have suggested only going 3/4ths of the way around the board, which is an easy enough fix, but the real problem is the game end. In an attempt to add a catch-up mechanism (not needed anyway), to finally get your piece to home, you have to deal a bunch of damage to the castle itself first. The suggestion is 100, but the castle can have up to 999 if you desire. In defense of the designers, they do say to set the castle to whatever you want. However, that should probably be 25, 10, or maybe even 0 in my opinion.
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11. Board Game: Summoner Wars: Master Set [Average Rating:7.56 Overall Rank:160] [Average Rating:7.56 Unranked]
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Call it cheating if you want (the first Summoner Wars set didn't come out this year), but if BGG treats it as its own game, so can I. It takes the #4 spot, also with a 9 rating.

When Summoner Wars first came out, I liked the game, though the paper map was a real turnoff for me. I was never a fan of the expansion packs that simply added to existing factions since, as previously discussed, I don't much like sitting around constructing decks/armies. Fortunately, Summoner Wars plays extremely well right out of the box.

The basic concept is that each player has an army made up of cards that move around the board. It almost feels like a miniatures game on a hex map, except its the cards themselves that move around on card-shaped spaces. Not all cards are units; some of them are spells that can be played for immediate effect.

One of the really brilliant things about this system is how the deck is used. Not only does it contain your units and spells, it is also a source of currency used to bring them into play. Cards from your hand can be placed into your Magic Pile which is used to pay the summoning costs of your units. Since you refill your hand to 5 at the end of each turn, it's tempting to build a ton of magic. However, your deck is razor thin, and if you do this, a few rounds in you will have a full magic pile and no cards left in your deck to spend it on. The balance this requires of you is difficult to do properly, and in fact there may not be a "right answer" in most situations, so it really requires intuition rather than brain-burning calculation.

The second thing that really amazes me about this system is that it is almost the exact opposite of my complaints about Battleship Galaxies. That is to say, the different factions are stunningly well-balanced and yet each requires a totally different style of play. The genius of this game is how it takes a simple system and lets all the complexity and interaction flow from the cards themselves.

It's getting harder and harder to come up with drawbacks as I move through the list, but if Summoner Wars has one, it is simply that it's really only a 2-player game. There is a 4-player option in the rules and it simply doesn't work very well. A true minis game has a lot more ways to accommodate teams or odd numbers of players, whereas SW is simply limited by it's maps and starting setups. They are a necessary evil to achieve the incredible balance of one faction against another, but it does sometimes make me wish a "battle royale" was a more practical option.
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12. Board Game: King of Tokyo [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:237]
Josiah Fiscus
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At #3 we have our first 10 of the list: King of Tokyo.

If I had to describe this game in one word it would be "addicting". I can't think of another game that creates more of a feeling of "just one more game" than this one. It's a light, beer-and-pretzels style game with a quick playing time and a healthy dose of luck. It also scales wonderfully from 2-6 players, though I think it's just plain more fun with more monsters - ah, I mean, players.

The premise of the game is basically the same as Monsters Menace America. That is to say, it's not JUST Godzilla or King Kong, it's ALL THE MONSTERS and they are going to kill each other, not just the planet. The cardboard stand-ups of the monsters are high-quality and have great cartoony illustrations. It has a bunch of custom dice and some special power cards which are really what make the game shine.

Just as in Yahtzee or Roll Through the Ages, you take a fistful of dice and get three rolls, keeping whatever you want from the previous roll and re-rolling the rest. The goal is to either kill all the other monsters or get 20 points. The dice have various combinations that get you points, healing, attacks on other monsters or energy. Energy is the currency of the game and is used to buy special cards.

As you would expect from Richard Garfield, these cards all break the game in various ways, changing the rules just for your monster so he has a leg up on the other critters. There are tons of these cards; it will probably take 4-5 games (depending on the number of players) to see them all, even if you set aside the ones you already used.

I'll play this game at the drop of a hat and don't see myself ever getting sick of it. It just that a couple games came out this year that are EVEN BETTER.
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13. Board Game: Rune Age [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:931]
Josiah Fiscus
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This is the aforementioned game I would play over Quarriors! or Dominion (two solid games in their own right). But for the first game on this list, it would have been my favorite game of the year.

Rune Age is a deckbuilding game set in Fantasy Flight Games' proprietary universe, Terrinoth. Fans of Descent, Rune Wars, Runebound, etc. will recognize some of these characters and artwork. A lot of people seem to think this is a cost-saving measure, and I'm sure that's true to some degree, but I happen to like the concept of the same world spanning several games.

This game owes a lot to Dominion, no question. The main change it makes is that rather than having 10 cards in the middle that anyone can buy, it only has 3. Then each player gets a faction which includes 4 cards that only they can buy. It really gives a different feel to playing each faction, yet it maintains the competition of being the first to get a certain valuable card before other players do.

I almost can't explain the variety and replayability this tiny $25 game offers. There are four factions that are very well-balanced against each other, but not in the way you might expect. You see, Rune Age comes with 4 different scenarios. One is co-operative, one is a race build up a set amount of gold, one is a race to defeat a huge dragon (though you can also kill other players to win), and one (my favorite) is simply about killing everyone else before they kill you. Obviously, these scenarios each require a different play style, but each FACTION also requires a different play style. It feels like you need to master about 16 different approaches to be able to succeed with any deck at any scenario. There may be a scenario where one of your cards is extremely useful, and yet in the next scenario you never buy it. Deciding how to build your deck is equally important to how you actually play the cards and what you attack.

It's my favorite deckbuilding game of all time. And it's so cheap you can't afford not to own it. Give this one a go if you haven't yet. I've found it has appeal to almost all types of gamer.
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14. Board Game: Conquest of Planet Earth: The Space Alien Game [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:1335]
Josiah Fiscus
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It's my favorite game of 2011!

Conquest of Planet Earth: The Space Alien Game is not nearly as popular as it deserves to be. I think the primary reason is one of marketing. It came out just a few months after another Flying Frog game, Invasion From Outer Space: The Martian Game. Obviously, that's pretty confusing. But where IFOS:TMG was simply a re-theme of the didn't-need-to-be-re-themed classic Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game, Conquest offers an amazing experience that feels like the designers knew exactly what I like in a game and gave it to me.

You play an alien race bent on the domination of our humble planet. However, there are other alien races as well, each with their own special powers. Only one thing is certain: the humans can't win. So, as in Cosmic Encounter, your alien race has a special set of powers that are different from everyone else. In addition to the special abilities your race affords you, each race also has two stats: strength and intelligence. Intelligence is essentially your size of your hand, which refills at the end of each turn. Strength is the combat value of each of your plastic spaceships. When using your ships to take over objectives or battle other aliens, you will each add up your total strength and each roll a die to be added as well. A roll of 6 is a critical hit (automatic win), so you are never completely outgunned. These races feel very thematic and definitely demand a different play style depending on both your powers and your opponents' powers.

One of the most brilliant mechanics in this game is the action point system. To my knowledge, it is unique; I have never seen it used in any other game. Basically, you have 6 action tokens numbered 2-6 and d6. (So instead of a 1, there is a d6.) Obviously, you want as many actions as possible each turn so... oh wait. Actually, the player who plays the lowest action token gets to go first. Sometimes, that is extremely crucial, and at all times it is useful. But wait, there's more! Each action token has to be used before you can use another one (except the d6 which has no limit on its uses). So once your 6 is used, the best you can do is use a 5. When you have spent your 3,4,5, and 6, all you have left is a 2 and a d6, wouldn't you just use the d6 the rest of the game? Well no, because once you have spent all your action tokens (aside from the d6), you get ALL of them back. So you will need to decide when you plan to take a lousy 2-action turn so that you can get your big action tokens back. The best time to do this? When you want to go first of course! I hope that wasn't terribly confusing because it's a beautiful and intuitive thing in practice.

So many incredibly tough decisions. Should you hang on to a card that is really useful in certain situations, or discard it to draw more cards? Do I use my instant battle winning card this battle, or might there be a time of greater need? How do I manage my action tokens? How many aliens should I commit to each battle, especially since I am also rewarded for spreading out and exploring? How do I spend my action points and tokens?

With two players, it's much more beer-and-pretzels, because it's quicker and there's no ganging up. But with 3 or 4 (4 especially) it really shines, creating some extremely memorable situations that will leave you talking about "that one time" long after the game is over.

Did I mention I'm only talking about the competitive version of the game, but there is a co-op scenario as well? I've never even played it! The competitive game is so good, a true masterpiece of Ameritrash, that when I pull it out of the box, it's all I want to play.

Every single game seems to come down to the wire, with one player making a desperate bid for the final objective they need and other players throwing every card they can at them to stop it from happening. There’s never a “sneaky win”, it’s always hard fought and extremely satisfying. The humans are appropriately pathetic, easily crushed by the alien forces, and the weakest have the keyword SOFT, because they are pink and squishy. Just watch out for Earth’s mightiest hero, Captain Fantastic! I could go on, but I won’t. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if anything I’ve said appeals to you at all, play this one ASAP.
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