This time last year I did my first blog post in this style, featuring my 2012 gaming highlights. Thankfully I think I’m still in minor (rather than major) obsession territory, as my collection grew about the same amount (up by around 40 games) and I played about the same amount of games (total plays went from 444 last year to around 400 this).
I again had three game related trips away, with my second trip to Essen and a couple of trips to Eastbourne. Unfortunately we failed to make it to Paros, but the flights for our May 2014 visit are already booked and paid for.
I’m sticking to last year’s ‘highlights’ format, with the addition of a bit of looking back to last year’s predictions – but the word count is lower, promise! If you’ve got any comments or suggestions please add them below.
My 4 best gaming experiences of 2013
In no particular order:
- The Empire Engine is a very small game, but it’s mine and I made it and it’s finished and I’m proud (along with Matthew Dunstan of course – but I’m sure he’d tell you that, deep down, it’s my baby). Seeing it go online was chuffing; playing it with friends and them enjoying it was brilliant; showing it to publishers was pant-wetting in more ways than one; and who knows where things will go in 2014…?
- Essen was, again, brilliant. I spent a similar amount of money (£150) on a similar amount of games (13), while getting to show The Empire Engine to a few publishers – which was ridiculously exciting, especially when they didn’t hate it. It was nice to go with old friend Matt too, who had a great time – and also gave the opportunity to turn it into a bit of a road trip on the way home. We took in Cologne and Brussels, but mainly for more beer and board games. Good times.
- Space! While moving from Cambridge to St Ives did more to hinder my chance of playing games than help it, moving away from the people I play with most often, it did give me the chance to turn the kitchen-diner into a games room-kitchen-diner! Zoe is very patient with my minor obsession, probably because it isn’t really bad for me and she doesn’t hate it. And no matter what you think of them as a hobby, they certainly fill a wall rather handsomely.
- Eastbourne (with London on Board) was brilliant fun, again, twice. We’re already booked in for Easter too, which is lovely to have to look forward to. November’s was a bit different, as we played quite a lot in couples with some really lovely people. It meant I missed out on playing some big releases I really want to get a go at (Francis Drake, Amerigo, Pathfinder, Caverna, etc etc etc…) but what I missed in hype I made up for with a fantastically relaxed weekend.
My top individual game plays of 2013
I looked back through my gaming year blog on BGG and picked my most memorable individual plays.
- January: I unexpectedly received the card game Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation from my Secret Santa and instantly fell in love with it. I played the hell out if it that month and I’m now into double figures. Great game.
- February: My first ever game of Basari was a real highlight. This was a début win, which is always good, and over Lloyd, which is even better – but I did genuinely fall for it on the spot. Having played since I still love it, but haven’t found a copy yet.
- March: It was the month I thought of The Empire Engine as my game’s name, but a big win at Ra on 62 points (about 20 points clear) had to be the gaming highlight.
- April: Being taught any game by London on Board’s Rocky is always a treat, but a game as thematic as Dungeon Lords – and while at LoB-sterCon in Eastbourne? No contest.
- May: A new tweak of the rondels from Matt finally saw all of The Empire Engine parts fall into place – and what better location to come to this conclusion than on holiday in Prague with Zoe? Good times.
- June: The wonderful Copycat was often one of the highlights of my gaming month, so this might be here purely on countback. A great four-player game saw us all separated by five going into the final round, with Andy sneaking the win on 97.
- July: Its the final play of the game. I’m three points down, a distant 38 yards from the end zone. I go long – and roll three sixes! The crowd go wild (Zoe still has nightmares today)! Touchdown! 16-12! Only Pizza Box Football can do this.
- August: A draw between finding an original version of Merchant of Venus on eBay for £20 and falling in love at first play; or losing Ingenious to Zoe for the first time – a game she thought she’d never get good at.
- September: This had to be my first game of Rialto, which I thought I was doing well at right up until I came third. I’ve wanted it ever since, and got it for Christmas, so hopefully it’ll be seeing the table a bunch in 2014.
- October: A hilariously protracted game of the rather wonderful Blueprints with old friends (Matt, Keith and Clare) and new friends (the design/booth team for Cornish Smugglers) alike at a random bar in Essen.
- November: While lots of ‘couples’ games with both Karl & Ann and Donna & Paul came close, the one stand out game was my début at Twilight Struggle. Both Martin and me were new to the game, and it showed, but it was truly magnificent.
- December: A Boxing Day game of Can’t Stop! with Zoe and her parents, who had bought it for me for Christmas. It was probably the only game I played all year with non-gamers, which is a real shame. Must try harder!
The best 12 not new but ‘new to me’ games of 2013
A slightly shorter list than last year, but it was just as good a year in terms of quality. I still don’t feel like a board gaming expert, or even a well seasoned player in comparison to my peers, but I’m happy with that – discovering all of these brilliant older games was once again a highlight.
- Merchant of Venus: The grand daddy of space exploration is still the best, because the cleverness of the mechanisms still haven’t been bettered. Fact.
- Rosenkonig: Probably my favourite abstract game, as well as my favourite two-player game, this is a one-on-one masterpiece.
- Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation: The best small box civ game I’ve played. Fantastic card combos and strategy in a small box.
- Nefertiti: A quick and clever bidding/set collection game with a closed economy that really ramps up the tension.
- Manila: Is it a racing game? A dice game? A push your luck game? All of the above? I’m still not sure – but I love it.
- The Castles of Burgundy: A clever and puzzley use of dice in a game that’s all about efficiency. That doesn’t make it sound good… but it is.
- Tikal: I’m not normally keen on area control, but the action selection and score timing randomness really made it shine for me.
Not bought (yet…)
- Twilight Struggle: A truly remarkable card-driven two-player war game that perfectly captures the history of the Cold War.
- Dungeon Lords: Thematic, funny, nasty and hard: a brilliant combination that perfectly hits the spot.
- Arabian Nights: A storytelling/choose your own adventure experience more than a game, this is a fun and beautifully realised change of pace.
- Basari: A great quick-and-dirty game of chance mixed with set collection, I’m looking forward to checking out the new version in 2014.
- Lady Alice: Cluedo, made into a ‘proper’ game with something closer to real deduction, with bluffing thrown in.
Of last year’s ‘not bought… yet’ list I only actually picked up Kingdom Builder, which I’ve had a lot of fun with. Glen More, Galaxy Trucker and Die Macher are still on my wishlist but more to look for cheap than to reach the top of it. Cards Against Humanity I’ll pick up soon, now the UK version is out, while Fairy Tale has fallen out of favour as I’m sure there’s a better card drafting game out there – even if it’s still in someone’s head!
2013 really wasn’t a year of expansions for me. Kingdom Builder: Nomads is very high on my wishlist, while Ticket to Ride: Nederland looks like a lot of fun. And it looks like we’ll finally get Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts…
My most played games in 2013
It was another year of experiments. Out of around 400 total game plays in 2013 some 80 of those were games I only played once – many of which I wish I’d never played at all! When you add more than 60 plays of unpublished prototypes and 18 games played just twice, that’s almost half my plays in odds and sods. Only a few made double figures:
- 22 – Race for the Galaxy
- 13 – Ticket to Ride (various maps)
- 13 – Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation
- 10 – Kingdom Builder
- 10 – Snowdonia
Just below these were Ra, Copycat and Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar.
But what’s really sad is the games that sat unplayed in 2013. Cuba was the biggest surprise, while Earth Reborn, For Sale and Lost Valley also failed to hit the table – all games I’m really keen on and another reason why I need to curb my spending in 2014.
My 7 favourite new releases of 2013
I don’t feel qualified to talk about the ‘best’ games of 2013, as I’ve been trying to catch up on classics more than chasing new releases. Of the current hot 10 releases according to BGG, I’ve only played one!
But here’s a few of my favourite 2013 releases; they may not be the highest rated, but I’ve really enjoyed them (and bought all except Bruges and Sail to India):
- Bruges: Tons of individual cards means masses of variation in this really thinky euro, while there’s also room for chaotic and nasty player interaction.
- Rialto: A really clever card mechanism made this area control/card drafting/bidding board game an instant favourite.
- Concordia: A fantastic resource and hand management euro game, with fast gameplay but a multitude of tricky decisions.
- Blueprints: A clever use of dice makes this super filler endlessly replayable, with a nice dollop of push-your-luck and deduction thrown in.
- CV: My family game of the year. Its a cute take on the Yahtzee mechanic, with wonderfully evocative artwork that really helps each game tell a story.
- Sail to India: The first of the Japanese microgames to really pack a lot of game into a small package. A complex exploration game in a tiny box.
- The Little Prince: Make me a Planet: Another great filler, this time with cute artwork and a clever take on the tile laying genre.
Alongside these, honourable mentions go to: A Study in Emerald (bonkers Cthulu themed randomness), Coal Baron (a by-the-numbers yet compelling euro), Relic Runners (a great route building family game), Händler der Karibik (a lovely push-your-luck card game) and Enclave (a sci-fi euro I wish I’d had time to play a full demo of at Essen).
Last year I had a good whine about Kickstarter – sadly a recurring theme this year, as nightmares I’d backed dragged on. I don’t intend to mention them again after today though; true to my word I haven’t backed a game on Kickstarter since and neither do I intend to – if a game is good enough to be released, it will find its way to market.
Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artefacts didn’t make it out in 2013 but I’m reliably informed it is in stores now – just not in the UK. How on earth does this happen? It’s going to have to go some now to live up to two years’ worth of high expectations!
I did play some real turkeys this year, but I don’t want to dwell on them: all I’ll say is, I suggest you avoid Packet Row and Mauna Kea like the plague…
Bring on 2014!
With flights to Paros paid for in May; the hotel for the next London on Board trip to Eastbourne booked, and a visit from gaming buddies Karl and Ann in the calendar for February, its already shaping up to be a good year. And of course I’m already looking forward to Essen in October…
I’ve also promised myself I’ll play more games with casual gamers this year, as well as gaming friends further afield. An extremely protracted house move (aren’t they all?) made it a bit of a chore to make arrangements, but now we’re settled I hope to make amends and get back on the evangelical trail!
I’ve started work on several more gaming prototypes, including a new one in collaboration with Matthew Dunstan, so I’m hoping the game design and playtesting also continues apace. And it was a real privilege to be involved in testing one of the recent expansions for Snowdonia; hopefully I can keep myself in that loop too.
As for new purchases I really am going to try and rein them in, but when I haven’t I said that? But I may actually keep the promise this year. I’m only really in the market for Bruges, Dungeon Lords and Basari at the moment – but there are so many of those lovely 2013 releases I haven’t tried yet – Francis Drake, for one, looks amazing. And there will be so many bargains in the sales…
See you in 2014!