The best of 2014, part 2: My top board and card gaming experiences

Empire Engine AEG main picThere’s no doubt 2014 was another big board-gaming year for me. What I’d thought about as an obsession has just become the norm, but I’m comfortable with that. I’m loving and contributing to the hobby, so who cares? It’s a brilliant community and I’m proud to be part of it.

My 6 best gaming experiences of 2014

In no particular order:

  • Paros 2012 041Paros: Our second trip to board gaming paradise to this beautiful Greek island was very different to our first, but I found it equally enjoyable. There wasn’t the same sense of adventure and exploration, while some bad news leading to an absentee made it a little sombre, but t the same time we totally relaxed and just swam, gamed and ate/drank. Our hosts were again amazing, we played 20+ games (many off of my ‘to play’ wishlist) and I really hope we can go back again – hopefully in 2016.
  • Essen: I’ve written plenty about my third trip to Essen in previous posts, so won’t say much here. I certainly hope to get some kind of pass (press/exhibitor) again in future as it was a major advantage in traversing crowds; and with the promise of the Empire Engine German edition in 2015 I’ve already got my hotel booked for next year! I won’t stay beyond the Sunday though – it proved a bit much, even for me.
  • Oxford: Empire Engine also gave me, Zoe and Matt an excuse to go to Oxford for a weekend to try and promote the game at the UK’s premier board game cafe, Thirsty Meeples. While we didn’t do much with the game, it was Zoe and my first proper touristy trip to Oxford, which was lovely, and the cafe was amazing. We’ll definitely be back to both, hopefully next year some time.
  • France 2014 the gangFrance: LoB buddy Tom invited a group of fellow gamers to stay at his family’s cottage in the south of France for a few days of country air and gaming – and lovely it was too. I ended up playing 36 games in four days, which included plenty of breaks for great food, booze and a lovely walk to find a TV and watch some World Cup footie. Would be great to do this again one day soon (if you’re reading Tom…).
  • Home and away: While I failed to get much game evangelising in this year, we did at least have some really nice weekends of gaming with like-minded gaming couples – namely Karl & Ann and Paul & Donna. This proved to be a lovely blend of walking, boozing, eating and gaming both in St Ives and London and are they very much on the agenda for 2015. I only wish I’d thought about things earlier and arranged something for New Year’s Eve – again, it’s firmly in my mind for the end of next year.
  • Eastbourne: Once again, my two trips to Eastbourne for gaming weekends-on-sea with the London on board regulars were great fun. Zoe only came to the Easter one this year, leaving me to fend for myself in November. Both were great in different ways and I think the plan is now set for following Eastbourne trips, as long as we keep getting invited.
  • St Ives Board Game Group: While Zoe and me have enjoyed our first full year in St Ives, we haven’t exactly integrated into the community. Generally it’s your typical town and people seem to have known each other for years, so while friendly enough it never feels very open. So it was great when this board game group started up and I got to meet some like-minded individuals – and they’re the ‘normal’ kind of folk too, not the weirdy nerdy ones (well, mostly). Long may it continue.

My top individual game plays of 2014

Deus boxI stopped doing my gaming year blog on BGG in October as it was taking too much time; but I’m still recording my plays there and including a little bit of extra info on each play. Here are my choices of month-by-month playing highlights:

  • January: It’s nice to be reminded how much you like  game, and doing this list has brought Manhattan Project back into my mind through all those shiny new Essen releases. Andy, Carl and me had a great close and tense game back in January that I won on 62 points – but both the other guys would’ve won on their next turns.
  • February: It was a year liberally sprinkled with great couply games weekends, but the gaming highlight was a game of Concordia with Ann, Karl and Zoe at ours. I won a wonderfully tight game that saw the four of us separated by just 12 points.
  • March: Sci-fi behemoth Twilight Imperium, bought for Andy’s 50th, took the March crown. I somehow talked people out of beating me to a pulp while sneakily lining a few points up. Just when I thought the game was up I survived another round unmolested and walked into the last territory I needed. It won’t happen again.
  • April: Finally getting my own copy of Brass, getting it to the table, then Zoe enjoying it, was brilliant – but a more typical game of ours stood out: A really close two-player game of Castles of Burgundy on a quiet evening in with a bottle of wine. The new games, the holidays, the get-togethers – all awesome. But that’s what it’s all about.
  • May: Our trip to Paros was lovely, and we played plenty of thinky games, but the stand out experiences were silly games of Cash ‘n’ Guns and Tumblin’ Dice. The former was purely daft fun, while the latter shows that it’s not impossible for me to be good at the occasional dexterity game. 
  • June: Another title was knocked off my ‘classics I need to play’ list in Manhattan – a beautifully nasty and stripped down area control abstract that was the first board game in ages I demanded back-to-back goes at after loving it the first time. Honourable mention to outdoor game Molki, which I bought after falling in love with.
  • July: I’d wanted to play Lords of Vegas for years – and when I finally did, it blew my mind. I played against two seasoned vets (Martin and Rocky) who showed me the depth the game can go to; I was purely along for the ride. Luckily both helped me along, I’m sure to their own ends, but Martin won out. And a mention for a great game of Letters to Whitechapel at the St Ives Board Game Group, where we failed miserably to capture a very sneaky Dan but had great fun trying.
  • August: Two great début experiences, with Formula D just beating off Dead of Winter for top spot. I was down and out going into the big final corner, second last of seven. But as it transpired I was the only player who could get into the outside lane and had luckily got the gears just right, letting me sling shot around the outside for an unlikely win. Shake and bake!
  • September: The beauty of Ra is its unpredictability – and September saw the perfect example. I had a strong looking tile set going into the last round, but not much could make it better. I grabbed things early but thought the time left would let Carl and Andy prosper – only to see a crazy string of Ra tiles scupper them both.
  • October: Essen and Eastbourne – what a month and so hard to pick a winner. My first games of both Deus and Caverna were amazing, but it was my plays of ebbes and First to Fight that stole the show. Both were played wit the designers, both were both fun and funny, while both were also fantastically entertaining games that I subsequently bought. Absolutely what Essen is all about.
  • November: Two variants of games I’d looked forward to a lot shared November’s prize. Basari: Das Kartenspiel was everything I’d wanted it to be (Basari in a little box while losing nothing), while the finished version of Snowdonia: The Necropolis Railway was everything Zoe and me had helped make it become in testing. Mage Wars with LoB friend Paul was also a very close contender and if I hadn’t been counting the minutes before I’d had to go home, rather than enjoying a relaxing beer, this may have taken it.
  • December: Matt Dunstan does, compared to me, have a big fizzing brain and I think he expects to beat me at any strategy game we play. At Thirsty Meeples in Oxford I taught him and manager John Deus – a game I’d played twice before. Matt started getting pretty smug half way through as the points rolled in, but I had a pretty good engine of my own going. In the final tally I’d beaten him into second by three points and oh boy, was his face a picture. I just wish he’d said, “does not compute” in a robot voice. He was genuinely surprised and yes, sadly enough it made my day.

My most played games in 2014

Race for the GalaxyIt was another year of experiments, as out of more than 500 total game plays in 2014 more than 130 were games I only played once.

When you add more than 100 plays of unpublished prototypes, that’s almost half my plays.

Only a few games made double figures again this year, with two games holding their places in the top three – but being separated by one cheeky new entry…

  • 18 – Race for the Galaxy (22 in 2013 and ‘most played’ every year ever)
  • 16 – Empire Engine
  • 12 – Ticket to Ride (13 in 2013 and still my go-to gateway)
  • 10 – Can’t Stop 

While this looks a bit grim for my top titles, lots of my favourite euros games were on or around five plays including Deus, Snowdonia, Bora Bora, Copycat, Terra Mystica and Concordia. With such a big collection, it stands to reason I’m having to spread them thin! But no, it’s not something I’m totally happy with – especially when I look at some of the crap games I was subjected to in 2014!

I really don’t think this will look the same next year. I already feel as if I want to spend more time playing the games I really like, while I’ve got a lot of ‘must play’ titles off my wishlist in the last couple of years. I’ve also signed up to the ‘33×3 Challenge‘ on Board Game Geek, which aims to get you to play 33 games 3 times each during 2015. This will hopefully encourage me to get a bunch of my favourites to he table more often.

Looking back to 2013

Merchant of VenusAfter 10 plays of Kingdom Builder in 2013, I only played twice this year. Lost Valley again failed to hit the table in 2014, while Merchant of Venus and Tikal – two of my favourite new games last year – were played a lot less than I’d predicted. But these are all on the aforementioned ’33×3′ list, so should see some more love this year!

Cuba and Earth Reborn had also gone unplayed through 2013 and I’ve since traded Cuba, while Earth Reborn won’t be far behind. They’re both good games, but the former feels too much like work while the latter I simply can’t see myself playing – I’d need a regular partner and that’s simply not going to happen. At least I managed four games of For Sale – I still can’t quite believe I didn’t play it all in 2013.

Bring on 2015!

As I mentioned above, the German release of Empire Engine this year already has me excited about next year’s trip back to Essen. It may even arrive in another language or two, which would be amazing. Also, as we’re not off to Paros in 2015, I’m hoping to go to my first UK Games Expo in Birmingham in May – even if only for a day to check it out and maybe give Empire Engine a little push there too.

I also have a couple of 2014 prototypes still with publishers, so there’s also the chance  follow up may also be at Essen too – but that would probably be too much to ask for! I do intend to stick at  designing games though; but I’m not ramping that up at all, as much as I’d like to (although working on an expansion for someone else’s game is a distinct and exciting possibility). It just doesn’t seem financially viable right now.

I’m also hoping to leverage the ‘designer’ tag a little, especially in terms of getting myself onto some podcasts in 2015. I have spoken agreements to get on as a guest for two already and if they go well, who knows? Maybe I’ll look to start doing something a little more permanent. I’ve enjoyed radio when I’ve done it in the past, so why not?

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. If nothing else, this year has taught me that I have a lot of awesome games on my shelves that I don’t play enough and that i’d love not to be rubbish at!

Part 1 here!

* For previous entries, see my 2012 and 2013 posts.

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My board gaming life: 2013 highlights

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:

  • Empire Engine screengrabThe 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

Blueprints finishedI 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

Merchant of VenusA 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.

Bought

  • 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

Race for the GalaxyIt 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

CV Essen promosI 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):

  1. 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.
  2. Rialto: A really clever card mechanism made this area control/card drafting/bidding board game an instant favourite.
  3. Concordia: A fantastic resource and hand management euro game, with fast gameplay but a multitude of tricky decisions.
  4. Blueprints: A clever use of dice makes this super filler endlessly replayable, with a nice dollop of push-your-luck and deduction thrown in.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).

Best forgotten…

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!

Paros 2012 041With 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!

My board gaming life: 2012 highlights

I think that, if I’m honest, I should describe 2012 as the year board games went from being a hobby to a minor obsession.

Despite saying a year ago I was happy with my collection of just over 50 games, I still managed to practically double my collection. Add to that the fact I had three game related holidays in the year, joined two new game groups and wrote more on board and card games than ever before, the evidence is overwhelming.

For this reason I thought it best to separate my gaming year from everything else, as there was a big list of highlights. But as I started to put the list together it became clear the traditional ‘top 10’ wasn’t going to cut it. So (in 3,000 words or less…) here’s my raggle taggle list of 2012 gaming goodness.

My 8 best gaming experiences of 2012

These really stood out but are hard to categorise. In no particular order:

  • Ra for the Galaxy: While I spent a lot of time playing new and often brilliant games in 2012, Ra and Race for the Galaxy remain firmly in my ever fluctuating top five – usually in the top two spots. It’s been a pleasure to continue playing them, especially with my midweek group (Andy and Carl), and I never see them getting old. Simply brilliant games I enjoy every time.
  • Spreading the love through plastic trains: Another game rarely out of that top five is Ticket to Ride. Once again it has been our go-to gateway game of 2012, with Zoe and me successfully introducing it to four new couples. We just need to make sure we repeat some of those experiences in 2013, as we got a bit lazy late in the year. As for TtR, it should also be said it’s not just its gateway value that makes it shine – it’s a game I’m always happy to play.
  • Games as souvenirs: I guess it’s another mark of my burgeoning obsession, but I love to look on my shelves and see my Greek version of Citadels (from our awesome trip to Paros) and Spanish version of Lost Cities (from my regular trips to Barcelona). They’re great reminders of good times and are far more useful than fridge magnets! Well, ‘Exploradores’ is anyway – sadly my Greek doesn’t extend to playing Citadels (or, in fact, to doing more than asking for a beer).
  • Thrashed by mine own wench: During 2012, Zoe won every game of Ticket to Ride: Switzerland we played – seven wins in seven. This is important to me because it’s brilliant to have a girlfriend who is happy to play games – but also one who is good at them. She talks herself down sometimes, while some games simply don’t click with her, but on her day she’ll wipe the floor with me and that’s healthy! Happy to say I’ve already broken this duck though, with our first play of this year, but this record will forever stand.
  • Score draws: Following on from celebrating my defeats, I’ll move on up to drawing. While some people obsess over winning, I absolutely love a close game – whatever the outcome – and it doesn’t come closer than a great draw. 2012 saw some epic draws, including a fantastic game of Alhambra and back to back draws in Carcassonne – with two different groups in two days. I definitely fall on the side of ‘celebrate your shared victory’ rather than pointless deciding factors (most gold, or similar); you can’t really be expected to play for those in games where draws are rare, so why add these conditions in? I blame American sports.
  • Board in the sun: I’ve rattled on enough about Paros elsewhere, but the memories of sitting in the shade with a beer, enjoying the heat (it was just right for me when we went in early June) and learning a new game deserves a final mention. We learnt both Calus and Power Grid on this trip and my gaming life is much rich for the experience. I’ve managed to balls up going in 2013, but the minute the flights go on sale for 2014 I’m booking us in!
  • Playtesting prototypes: Another mark of my obsession has been further reaching into the hobby through playtesting and designing. I’ve had a lot of fun helping with the upcoming City of Guilds: The Card Game, while joining the Cambridge Playtest Group via Meetup.com has been a real revelation. I’m nowhere near a finished game myself, but to play both mine and other people’s prototypes with published game designers has been truly inspirational. I really hope the likes of Inspector Moss: House Arrest, Space Dogsbody and Divinare Dice get the published versions they deserve.
  • It’s a trip: Again, I’ve rattled on about these elsewhere, but trips to Essen, Eastbourne and Paros were full of great memories that will stay with me forever. Add to that the camaraderie I’ve found through my irregular trips down to London on Board (LoB) – and the related games days that have followed – and it has been a year of travelling far and wide for some fantastic gaming experiences.

My top individual game plays of 2012

I looked back through my gaming year blog on Board Game Geek and picked my most memorable individual plays that don’t get a mention elsewhere.

  • January: A great start to the year thanks to Matt’s hilarious 0 in Peloponnes during a fun gaming night at morph and Davina’s; Zoe trashing me at Hamburgum after seeing a better strategy; and me winning an epic game of Ra (versus Carl and Andy) 39-35-32.
  • February: A rare Endeavor win for me on 46, where I finally remembered there is something to do other than shipping; scoring 200 points in a completely dominant display in Revolution! Sometimes it’s just great to win big.
  • March: Most notable was a brilliant game of Decathlon with Zoe which was tense throughout. I won it 220-219 on the final throw of the dice – we really need to get this Knizia P&P game back to the table soon.
  • April: My first game of the excellent Manhattan Project at London on Board, with Ed pulling out a win that no one (except him, I suspect) saw coming. It couldn’t have been a better advert for the game.
  • May: A pretty depressing month of illness and miserablism was made more palatable by some great solo games; most notably Pizza Box Football, Adventures of D and Mage Knight. There was also a fantastic game of Ticket to Ride with Zoe, Morph and Davina that saw the four of us separated by just 11-points at the end.
  • June: Again with morph and Davina, but this time a different TtR: this time it was Team Asia, which Zoe and me lost 174-168 on quite literally the last card as they just completed a tunnel. Carl and me also had an epic two-player slug fest in Race for the Galaxy, which I lost 62-60 in a prestige drawing vs big military high-scorer.
  • July: I really didn’t expect Zoe to like Pizza Box Football – not did I expect one of the closest games of the year, with me finally losing 16-13 in overtime. We also had a fantastic game of Through the Ages where Zoe took a huge lead that I almost managed to claw back, finally going down 225-211.
  • August: A brilliant day at the Olympic tennis ended with Zoe’s first trip to LoB and us finding Jambo in the big random box of games; one that has since been bought and become a favourite. I also thoroughly enjoyed coming in dead last at Stone Age to Carl and Andy – a game I’d previously dominated; while Carl scored 87 in RftG – the highest total in any of our 200+ plays to date.
  • September: We had a fun game of Pompeii with morph and Davina, where Morph got crap draws and barely got a person on the board – but got them all out and came second – while Davina got bucket-loads out and then got terrible tile draws, ending up last. I also had a memorable introduction to Vanuatu at LoB.
  • October: The real Essen playing highlights were Snowdonia (with the Woking crew) and Tzolk’in with our new Australian friends. I also have a great image in my mind of playing Love Letter on the train when visiting Zoe’s sister.
  • November: Most noteable from our Eastbourne trip were the plays of Die Macher (thanks to Soren, who also introduced me to Vanuatu) and Goblins Inc (with the rather silly Tom and Lloyd). Also noteable was a great introduction to Terra Mystica on another regular LoB night.
  • December: Two Morph related incidents stand out: him crying with laughter while playing Cards Against Humanity, plus his Stone Age epiphany; he hadn’t liked it when we played a long time ago when he’d only just started gaming, but playing now he just ‘got’ it – and nearly beat me too.

The best 16 not new but ‘new to me’ games of 2012

I was going to painstakingly distil this down to 10, but then I realised I already on my third page of A4 and thought – why bother? So, in no real order:

Bought

  • Notre Dame: Engaging, tactical and strategic, while being well produced and playing in under an hour.
  • Puerto Rico: A classic for a reason – tough decisions, barely any luck and where watching your competitors is crucial.
  • Caylus: The granddaddy of worker placement rewards forward planning, but also ruthlessness.
  • Power Grid: A genius blend of route building and auction mechanisms which, despite the odd theme, looks great too.
  • Dixit: I’m not a party game fan, but the creativity this encourages through its beautiful artwork is impossible not to fall for.
  • Jambo: A brilliant two-player card game that has a great (and hard to find) blend of strategy, luck and interaction.
  • Acquire: A clever mix of tile placement/area control with a stocks and shares engine that actually makes investing seem like fun.
  • The Boss: There can’t be a game that packs more painstaking decisions into such a tiny box. Clever, quick and a lot of fun.
  • The Scepter of Zavandor: An economic/auction game with a fantasy theme? Who cares, it works!
  • Jaipur: Two-player set collection with just enough push-your-luck bells and tactical whistles to make it stand out from the crowd.

Not bought (yet…)

  • Fairy Tale: Card drafting done right in a tiny box of cards. It shall be mine! Should have the popularity 7 Wonders has.
  • Kingdom Builder: A lovely twist on area control, which initially looks restrictive but is quite the opposite.
  • Glen More: Another big game in a small box, this tile-layer has a great rondel mechanism and builds beautifully to a climax.
  • Galaxy Trucker: Space! Build your ship on a time limit then fly your box of bolts to its ultimate destruction! Fun!
  • Die Macher: My head still hurts. Hours and hours of German political wrangling, deal making and influence building. Brilliant.
  • Cards Against Humanity: A party game where being the most inappropriate and simply wrong in the head will get you the win.

I’ll add two expansions here too – Rattus: The Pied Piper and the Rattus 2010 Bonus Cards. As any good expansion should, these breathe new life into a game that I’d initially enjoyed but that had started to gather dust. You could of course argue that these should’ve been in the original box, but that’s another debate…

My 7 favourite new releases of 2012

I certainly didn’t play them all, but these are the 2012 releases that had the strongest impression of me. There were plenty more; in fact three great games I really enjoyed – Seasons, Goblins Inc and Coup – were on the list until the last minute. However, I felt there was a significant drop to those, so I left them off. So, in order of love:

  1. Snowdonia: My game of the year – worker placement goodness with the theme perfectly integrated alongside some properly clever mechanisms to keep the game ticking along and to be different every time.
  2. Tzolk’in: Another brilliant worker placement game, where the gears work perfectly to negate annoying upkeep duties. There are lots of routes to victories and forward planning is a must.
  3. Terra Mystica: The Eclipse killer for me, intelligently integrating area control with civ building and worker placement to make a non-confrontational yet tense and interactive experience.
  4. Plato 3000: What a surprise this was; a cyberpunk themed rummy variant that does just enough to the solid original mechanisms to make it a real gamer’s game.
  5. Love Letter: There are just 16 cards, it has very simple rules and it packs a ridiculous level of luck – but who cares? Fast, furious and fun.
  6. Copycat: I’m totally sold on this simple blend of Dominion’s deck building, Through the Ages’ card drafting and Agricola’s turn structure. I’m not sure of its staying power, but for the moment I’m having a blast.
  7. Manhattan Project: Another worker placement game that stood out from the crowd. Blocking key spaces is fantastic, especially on other players’ personal boards, while the hidden endgame conditions make for some tense finales.

I’d also like to add Ticket to Ride: Asia here as my best expansion release of 2012. It brings two genuinely new maps to the game – one introduces a brilliant team variant, while the other plays faster than any other version of the game. Both are great fun.

Incidentally, I didn’t play Descent 2, Waterdeep, X-Wing, Mage Wars, 1989, Space Cadets or Mice and Mystics (most now in the BGG top 250), while I don’t consider Android ‘new’ (although I enjoyed playing it back in the day).

And not forgetting…

It’s traditional around this time to put the boot into a few things; to let off some steam on some crap because it’s therapeutic, fun to read and possibly controversial. That’s pretty cheap, in honesty – but I’m going to do it anyway. Why the hell not? These things wasted my precious free time and/or money and I have precious little of either (although this blog post may call that into question).

  • Kickstarter games: What a bunch of crap – and I fell for it. Three times. I won’t go into the Glory to Rome debacle again here (I save that for my therapist), but since then I’ve been burnt twice more: Ace of Spies and Lost City of Karez, both of which I was meant to collect at Essen in October, still haven’t arrived. Bastards. So help me god, I will not back another game on Kickstarter – although the site itself isn’t to blame and I’ll continue to use it to back other things (such as the fantastic The Spiel podcast).
  • Crappy games: I’ve played a few real stinkers this year – the worst offenders being Swordfish and Courtier (both get the strategy/luck/length mix completely wrong), Spectaculum (a pointless rearranging of the Knizia toolbox), Among the Stars (combining the worst elements of drafting and tile laying) and Barista (lovely bits, lovely box, no game).
  • Overhyped games: Only a few for me this year: Suburbia (an exercise in mathematical efficiency totally devoid of charm), Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (Agricola with the game skilfully removed) and Spartacus (either too long, or too short).
  • Race for the Galaxy: Where the hell is the Alien Artefacts expansion! Bastards! And Dice for the Galaxy too. Don’t make me come over there…