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The Best of 2011 New-to-me Board Games

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Time for year-in-review posts, which I know because I keep writing the wrong date on my checks.  Just like last year, I'm going to write one for movies, one for board games, and one for books.  This here one's for board games, which you can tell because it says 'Board Games' in the title and not 'Books' or 'Movies.'

Game of the Year
Sword of Rome (2004)

Unlike last year, when I was torn enough that I split the Game of the Year award three ways, this year produced a clear winner.  Sword of Rome is the best counter-based multiplayer wargame I've played since Here I Stand.  And there's a lot of easy comparisons between the two.  The variable player goals, everybody-for-himself gameplay is shared, as is the card-based gameplay.

But what really makes Sword of Rome different, and what really makes it stand out from the glut of multiplayer card driven games is the individual player decks.  Although I've seen other CDGs attempt to create decks for each player, they've always fallen into the Paths of Glory style, which is byzantine and limited to two player; or they have high degrees of symmetricality, like you see in more of the deck-building Euros.  SoR, on the other hand, has highly customized decks, wildly different playstyles, and different goals.  The simple fact that the players are so different will keep this fresh for a long time.

The other big difference about this game is that it tends to come to a stalemate, which then gets broken by one player, which then becomes the dominant force and accrues victory points as the other players can't stop him.  The goal then, becomes to break the stalemate in your favor, which is difficult.  More frequently you are forced to play to stop the other players from breaking the stalemate to buy yourself time.  I don't know of any other game that has this dynamic so enforced.

Honorable Mention
Mansions of Madness (2010)

Mansions of Madness gets the board game/RPG blend just right. There’s lots of decisions, and an interesting structure, but still provides the pervasive atmosphere that is a must for a good RPG. The fact that this is based on Lovecraft meant very little to me, as I have no strong ties to the universe, but the theme still lured me in. This is another great game in the storytelling genre, something which seems to be having a microrenaissance with Tales of the Arabian Nights, Android, Mansions of Madness, and the rumors of an upcoming reprint of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective.

Other Notable Games
Blood Bowl: Team Manager (2011)
One of the most novel takes on Football, this doesn’t slavishly follow the every-play simulation that many are bound to.

Yomi (2011)
Great variable decks, the best since Blue Moon.

A Few Acres of Snow (2011)
Finally, something new that uses deck-building as a mechanic rather than as the sole focus of the game.

Worst Games

Star Trek: The Next Generation Deck-Building Game (2011)
The biggest non-Hasbro waste of a license that I know of. Ridiculously long, way too random, prone to runaway leaders, and imbalanced.

Finca (2009)
Worst same-y Euro offender of the year, with absolutely no connection to the theme whatsoever, and bland mechanics to back it up.

Pirate King (2006)
Beautiful components are wasted on this tepid Monopoly clone.

World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game (2008)
First outright bad game I’ve played from the Fantasy Flight big box games. Remarkably cookie-cutter, even for a fantasy questing game.

Other trends this year
The Rise of the Serial Game Session
I’m a notorious new-game player. Not that the game itself has to be new, but it does have to be new-to-me.  It’s rare that a game makes it beyond five plays, and most games I don’t own don’t even make it to two. This year I bucked that trend, with 3 different recurring games. I started my first (and probably only) game of Empires in Arms in January. We made it for 7 monthly sessions before we called it quits for lack of interest, getting almost a year and a half of game time done. I also played the bulk of a full 17 week season with Ben F. in Paydirt, with each of us taking a team. We did games of that roughly weekly. I also finally put my boxes of A Game of Thrones CCG cards that I picked up on sale a few years ago to good use, as Peter and Ben F. and I started a weekly sealed-draft tournament for that. My rough guess is that those three games probably accounted for one third of my total time gaming this year. Quite surprising. With the CCG going strong, and with a Memoir ‘44 campaign on the agenda as well, the trend seems like it will continue

The Return of Shitty Party Games
I decided that I was going to be more open to mainstream and party games early this year, which resulted in me playing a lot of standards, as well as a bunch of party games. Although I’m sure it decreased the snobbiness quotient, I’m not really sure it was worth it. Some of the games, like Minnesota Trivia and Apples to Apples Mod were new, and terrible, and a lot of the others, like Scrabble and Monopoly were old, and terrible. There were a few, like Tribond and Trivial Pursuit, that were tolerable, but even with those, I finished the game and mostly regretted it. I think this year I’ll have to go back to being picky. Better to play nothing and feel mildly regretful than to play a terrible game and feel like I wasted my time.

The Football Collection Explosion
I added seven new football simulations this year, which definitely takes my football board games from a sideshow to a full independent collection.  That probably doubled the sum total.  I've still got a whole bunch that I haven't played, but at least now that the Paydirt season is done, there's at least some chance of them seeing the light of day.

The Year of the New Releases
A surprising pattern jumps out from my favorite games this year, which is to say that nearly all of them are new. In the past, particularly last year I’ve had a lot of games five years or older as favorites, but this year it’s almost all bleeding edge games. I’m not sure if this is because this is the year I finally “caught up” with all of the major games of the last 20 years, or if this reflects a fundamental change in my playstyle, or if it’s simple coincidence. It seems like the last, as I still play some older new-to-me games, but they either were good-to-mediocre (Primordial Soup, Starfarers of Catan) or outright bad (Slide 5, Tichu).

Full List of New-to-me Games Played This Year

Perhaps this will be interesting to somebody other than me.  Well, here it is.

Blue Moon Expansion: Buka Invasion
Field Commander: Alexander
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
Battlestar Galactica: Exodus Expansion
Mansions of Madness
The Resistance
Sword of Rome
Under the Lily Banners
7 Wonders
God's Playground
Patton's Best
Pirate King
The Road to Canterbury
Skull & Roses
Slide 5
World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game
A la carte
Apples to Apples Mod
Ascension: Return of the Fallen
Auf Achse
Bermuda Triangle
Blood Bowl: Team Manager - The Card Game
Cave Troll
Chaos in the Old World: The Horned Rat Expansion
Dixit 2
Dominion: Seaside
Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game
Earth Reborn
Empires in Arms
A Few Acres of Snow
Football Strategy
Fortress America
Le Havre: Le Grand Hameau
Ironman Football
Johnny Unitas' Football
Kingsburg: To Forge a Realm
League of Six
Lokomotive Werks
Mage Knight Board Game
Magical Athlete
Merchants & Marauders
Minnesota Trivia
New World
Power Grid: Brazil/Spain & Portugal
Power Grid: Russia & Japan
Power Struggle
Primordial Soup
Samurai (1979 Avalon Hill)
Social Security
Space Empires: 4X
Star Trek [Deck Building Game]: The Next Generation
Starfarers of Catan
Starship Troopers
The Target
Third and Long: The Football Card Game
Thurn and Taxis
Urban Sprawl
Word on the Street
World of Warcraft: The Boardgame - The Burning Crusade