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2012: Best of Board Games

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Best 2-player Wargame
Fast Action Battles: The Bulge (2008)

The designer of Europe Engulfed has hit another home run here.  This is some of the best of block wargaming.  Despite being about the Bulge, the most overemphasized battle in boardgaming, this game still engages and feels fresh.  There's just enough differentiation of units and of factions to make the game feel very different from both sides.  

The history is fantastic as well.  Many of the units enter later, with some flexibility given to the player to make sure that they aren't wasted in the wrong sectors, but also with an eye for history that restrains them marginally.  Players can stick to the historical plan if they want, but if they expend enough effort, they can divert resources to another sector, much like the decisions that would have been left to the commander of the front.

 

Best Multiplayer Wargame
Samurai Swords (1986)

An old entry from the Milton Bradley Gamemaster series, I played this for the first time this year.  It easily became my favorite of the series, eclipsing even long-time favorite Axis & Allies.  Though I played the old version, this has been reborn and reissued by as Ikusa by Wizards of the Coast.

This is one of the best dudes-on-a-map games.  There's blind bidding, conflict, and multiplayer negotiation.  It has player elimination, but very well done, and it drives inexorably toward conclusion.  There's no waiting for two other players to weaken each other so you can win here -- the winner is probably going to be somebody who has done well in the early game, and so it's a bit of a race to strengthen your position and hammer your opponents where they are weakest. 

 

Honorable Mentions

Warriors & Traders (2011) and Eclipse (2011) - Either one of these two might very well be my favorite in the long term, but neither got a second play, and thus I am loathe to give them the official "Best" award.  W&T is an extremely clever multiplayer historically-based wargame, which shows an extremely high view of the state building process in Europe.  It was a limited release, and seems not to be catching on, which is a real shame.  Eclipse is the hottest new space game to come out.  I don't think this is going to replace Twilight Imperium in my heart, but it scratches a lot of the same itches, with fewer rules.

Cards Against Humanity (2009) - Apples to Apples is truly loathesome, but this variation on it has convinced me that writing can make all the difference in a party game.  I don't want to play party games often, but this will be near the top of the list when I do.

Phoenicia (2007) - I shouldn't like this game, what with the bad art, confusing components, and auction-driven gameplay.  But I enjoy it every time it comes out.  A nasty little Euro that I like.

Battlestations (2004) - The first role-playing experience I've liked.  Silly, and the PC game homage/rip-off FTL isn't half-bad either. 

High Frontier (2011) - Extremely well-studied, and thematically perfect.  Probably overly heavy and luck-driven, but unique enough that it deserves this Honorable Mention.

NFL Quarterback (1977) and Statis Pro Football (1987) - The best football sims I've found at two different ends of the spectrum. NFL Quarterback abstracts out teams and deals with stuff only on a play-by-play basis, but does it in a way that gives the defense enough control, but also allows the offense to dictate the flow of the game.  Statis Pro is the other extreme: intensely detailed down to the individual players on each team, and allows offenses to pick on matchups that favor them.  This is the only game at this level I've played that's worth the time and complexity. 

Worst

Stocks & Bonds (1964) - Perhaps picking on long-forgotten games is inappropriate, but it doesn't change the fact that this is fundamentally no different from the "Manage your portfolio" project that almost everybody did in middle school social studies.

Cashflow 101 (1996) - What a horrible travesty of a game.  A thinly-disguised get-rich-quick scheme.  Fails as a boardgame and as an educational exercise.

Ave Caesar (1989) - I had heard of this as an august racing game, one that was a longtime favorite.  It's a terrible game, and just doesn't have enough to it to justify still playing it.

 

The full list of new to me games in 2012:

Twixt
Campaign Manager 2008
Android: Netrunner
Cards Against Humanity
Phoenicia
Virgin Queen
1812: The Invasion of Canada
Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer - Vortex Promo
Battles of Westeros
Blackbeard
Blokus Duo
Blokus Trigon
Coloretto
Dominion: Dark Ages
FAB: The Bulge
Frederick the Great
Hoity Toity
Ikusa
King of Tokyo
Neuland
Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game - Fame and Fortune
Twilight Imperium (third edition): Shards of the Throne
Vinci
1st & Goal
APBA Pro Football
Arkham Horror: Innsmouth Horror Expansion
Arkham Horror: The Black Goat of the Woods Expansion
Arkham Horror: The Curse of the Dark Pharaoh Expansion (Revised Edition)
Arkham Horror: The Lurker at the Threshold Expansion
Ascension: Storm of Souls
Ascension: Storm of Souls - Soul Collector Promo
Ave Caesar
Baseball Strategy
Battleball
Battles of Westeros: Wardens of the West
Battlestations
Battlestations: Galactic Civil War
Battlestations: Pirates of Trundlia
Blue Line Hockey
Cashflow 101
Catan: Cities and Knights: 5-6 Player Extension
Challenge Football
Computer Football
Core Worlds
Descent: Journeys in the Dark (second edition)
Dominant Species: The Card Game
Dominion: Hinterlands
Dragonology: The Game
Eclipse
Fighting Formations: Grossdeutschland Motorized Infantry Division
A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition)
Half-Time Football
High Frontier
Kingdom Builder
König von Siam
Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-?
Luna
Macao
Memoir '44: Air Pack
Memoir '44: Campaign Book Volume 1
The New Era
NFL Quarterback
Ora et Labora
Pandemic: On the Brink
Pro Football Fantasm
Pueblo
Puzzle Strike
Rise and Decline of the Third Reich
Rise of Empires
The Settlers of Catan: 5-6 Player Extension
Statis Pro Football
Stocks & Bonds
Super Dungeon Explore
Tetris Link
Traders of Carthage
Troyes
TZAAR
Unpublished Prototype
Upwords
Vasco da Gama
Warriors & Traders
Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York
Yggdrasil