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The Best of 2010 New-to-me Board Games

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Because this is my blog, and because I am a fucking special snowflake, I'm going to post one of those intolerable year-in-review posts.  Actually, I'm going to post three of them, one about games, one about movies, and one about books.  And you're going to have to read all of them.  Sucks to be you, reader!

If you're half-retarded and can't figure it out from the title, I'm not restricting my chronicle of board game consumption for 2010 to only include 2010 releases.  There are too many old games I play that are new to me, and some of those are so mind-erasingly awesome that they must be talked about at the end of the year, which is when our country puts down its 30 fat gram egg nog for three seconds to talk about that crazy fucking shit that happened to us that one time since the last time the earth was in this place in its elliptical orbit.

There's a three-way tie for game of the year this year, by three games that are about as different as they could possibly get, unless I lose my brain next year and pick Uncle Wiggly, Empires in Arms and Klaus Teuber's Recycled Euro Adventure.

 

Game of the year (tie)
Republic of Rome (originally 1990, but rereleased 2009, which is the version I played.)

Let me float a concept by you.  Let's pretend, just for a few moments, that politics is fun.  "Hogwash!" I hear you antiquatedly cry.  Well, they managed to make it cool.  You know, dickering over which of the pretty much identical dudes in the Roman Senate gets to go get crushed by Hannibal this year is actually fun.  It's a delicate balance of giving a little, holding a little, and trying to make out just a hair better than your opponents.  And there's shit like seductions, assassinations, and subjugating the lesser civilizations, in the great Roman tradition.  This game did its homework.  All the great Roman offices are there to be assigned, like Censor and Dictator.  You can even go apeshit like Julius did and declare yourself Imperator if you have the balls, but you better believe the rest of the gamers are going to forget their petty squabbles, and form an unbreakable coalition to rip off your testicles, feed them to an asp, then force it up your rectum in the most undignified way before they dump your dismembered corpse into the Tiber.  If you like negotiation games, but can't quite do Diplomacy, this is probably perfect for you.  A truly unique game, I know of nothing like it.

 

Game of the year (tie)
Paydirt (originally released 1972, though I played the 1990 version)

There might be a better football sim out there than Paydirt, but I have a hard time imagining it.  I've tried quite a few football games, looking for one that I felt simulated the game, and like Goldilocks with Baby Bear, this gets it juuuuuust right.  It's got all the agony of watching your favorite team on TV.  You can kick yourself wondering why your corner didn't bother to cover the wideout with a 17-13 lead with 1:20 to go in the game.  And you can watch as Joe Montana coolly leads the 49ers down the field.  Again.  And best of all, you can do this in a simple, intuitive fashion.  It's not so dirt-simple that you wonder why there are any decisions at all, like Pizza Box Football, and it's not burdened with the overcomplicated chart referencing of Strat-O-Matic.

 

Game of the Year (tie)
Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game (2010)

Speaking of great simulations of non-board-oriented experience, this game took the computer franchise and made a board game that feels exactly like it.  Exactly like it.  Creepy, probably-they-just-ground-up-the-game-discs-and-pressed-them-into-cardboard-and-isn't-that-shit-toxic-if-you-breathe-it kind of duplication of the computer game.  Ignore the military at your peril.  Woe to those who get out-teched.  But don't focus on only tech, or you might find that somebody cultured their way to victory.  In other words, you are pretty sure you're doing great until one of your opponents points out the gaping flaw in your strategy, and you are left spasmodically twitching.

 

Now it's time to cut to the truly boring part of the article.  The part where I drone on about trends I noticed, almost all of which are probably irrelevant to anybody buy me, or are a result of selection bias, or both.

 

Everything old is new again
1776 (1974)
The Legend of Robin Hood (1979)
The aforementioned Paydirt (1972)

This was the year of me discovering that old Avalon Hill games still can hold up well, even when they are obscure and have about the same chance of getting a reprint as I do of witnessing a gryphon battle a unicorn without the benefit of hallucinogens.  There's a culture in boardgaming that old = outdated and clunky, but I found, to my pleasant surprise, that it wasn't the case.  Sure, the games are older, but many of them are still really good.  And they feel very fresh to me.  1776 could have been released this year by GMT, and Robin Hood is only a few very small component changes from being a Fantasy Flight Games Silver Line title.  There are a LOT of good games out there more than 15 years old, and it's worth taking a look when one catches your eye for theme.

 

Fresh out of the Mechanic Ovens

Cyclades (2009)
Gosu (2010)
Revolution! (2009)

There's nothing wrong with the new ideas, either.  Several 2009 and 2010 releases caught my eye.  Yeah, I know, 2009 was longer ago, but these two both came out late enough in the year that only the truly obsessed played them before 2010 rolled around.  Cyclades breathed new life into the plastic dudes-on-a-map genre, with an auction system that actually works, Revolution! brought a whole new feel to blind bidding and groupthink with a go-where-they-ain't bidding system that is stupidly simple, but very, very complicated to feel out.  You play the players and not the game.  Perhaps freshest of all is Gosu, the amazing surprise card game that didn't feel like a rehash.  Hell, I even played it twice in a row, and I don't play anything twice in a row.

 

All It Takes Is a Strong Historical Theme and I'll Even Like Euros
Heads of State (2008)
In the Shadow of the Emperor (2004)

Both of these games are another mishmash of not-particularly-unique mechanics, and they share a thin theme laid over the top of European history.  But something about them really gets me.  In the Shadow of the Emperor has a certain dynastic feel of Holy Roman Emperors rising and falling, and Heads of State simply feels like negotiating the courts of Europe.  Well, they really don't feel like that at all, they actually feel like area majority games in which.... ahhhh, nevermind.  I probably will be the only person who cares about these games in 10 years, but they are still damn cool.  They just have a feel about them that's right.  Kind of like Imperial.
 

 

And for good measure, here's a list of everything else I played that was new for me.

Age of Napoleon
Alea Iacta Est
Alien Frontiers
Arkham Horror
Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer
Beowulf: The Movie Board Game
Ca$h 'n Gun$
Catacombs
Cavum
Chill: Black Morn Manor
Clash of Monarchs
The Climbers
Cloud 9
Conquest of Paradise
Conquest of Paradise Expansion - Random Events Cards
Daytona 500
D-Day Dice
Dice Town
Dominion: Alchemy
Dominion: Intrigue
Dominion: Seaside
Dominant Species
Doodle Dice
Downfall of Pompeii
Dungeon Lords
Dungeon Twister
Dungeon Twister: 3-4 player expansion
Dungeons & Dragons computer Labyrinth Game
El Capitán
Endeavor
Field Commander: Rommel
Fireball Island
Founding Fathers
Fresco
Ghost Stories: White Moon
Glory to Rome
Goldbräu
Hansa Teutonica
Heroscape
Imperial 2030
Iron Dragon
Jambo
Last Word
Lifeboats
Lord of the Rings: Battlefields
Louis XIV
Maccabees
Martian Rails
Medieval
Monopoly Deal
Mykerinos
New York Central
NFL Strategy
Origins of World War II
Pax Romana
Pro Football Franchise
Quarto
Red November
Shipyard
Sorry! Sliders
Speed Circuit
Starbase Jeff
Successors
Sword & Scepter
Tales of the Arabian Nights
Talisman
Talisman City
Talisman Dungeon
Talisman Timescape
Tammany Hall
Thunderstone
Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements
Tikal
Titan
TransAmerica
TransAmerica Expansion: Vexation
TransEuropa
Vegas
Warrior Knights: Crown and Glory
Washington's War