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2014: Best of Games

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The move put me well behind schedule, but I find it useful to put these year-in-review posts together anyway.  As always, this is a review of the games that are new-to-me, not necessarily only the ones published in 2014.

Best Civilization Game
Antiquity (2004)

Nearly every year, I put a civilization game somewhere on this list, either as a winner or as an honorable mention.  This year's entry is Antiquity, one of those Splotter games that was released eons ago and now costs an arm and a leg if you want to get a copy.  But damn, this one is worth it.  It does an excellent job of unrolling the fallacy of pretending that mediaval societies were little more than a stepping stone to industrialized societies.  Instead, there is a rich alternative medieval model to this world, one that emphasizes both the culture of stewardship toward natural resources and the difficulty of growth in the medieval era.  We're used to thinking of ecology as a modern problem, but Antiquity emphasizes that it's something we've been dealing with for a long time.  If you ignore it, you will choke your civilization and your city will stagnate and decline.

It's not a perfect simulation.  It shares some of the common problems with civ games -- players still represent some kind of weird god-king that has near complete control over their population, and it's city-based, which is an odd way of modeling the mostly agrarian societies of the era.  There's also a strange win condition surrounding your cathedral.  It's a great choice in game terms, but it's really weird way to declare a win, by satisfying your particular patron saint more as if he or she was an ancient Mesopotamian god.

But the game is just so unique, and well-balanced, and has a fitting art style and a great presentation.  It's a great choice for this year's representative in the Civ category.

Best Eurogame
Suburbia (2012)

I never thought I'd be giving a best-of in this category, and I definitely didn't think I'd be awarding a game named after one of my least favorite contributions of American car culture.  Suburbia, however, is an example of what Euros can be like if they stick with a theme instead of running from it.  The game manages to take Euro design principles like simple math, changing valuations, and tableau building, and wraps them around a cohesive theme.  The theme doesn't necessarily fit with building a suburb (it's much more like building a city center), but it does hit all the high- and low-points of city governance.  You have to keep your people happy, but it helps to specialize, but you can't be completely without any services, and you have to make sure that it all balances on the budget spreadsheet.  

Euros are often decried for their bureaucracy, and Suburbia takes the novel step of embracing it and working it into its theme.

 

Best Wargame
Fire in the Lake (2014)

Board wargames have been struggling about how best to simulate post-WWII warfare since their inception.  Most modern wars don't fit the all-or-nothing mindset of WWII, but instead are as much about occupying hostile territory, winning hearts and minds, and keeping fragile coalitions together.  Volko Ruhnke's COIN series seems to finally have figured it out.  The idea is startlingly simple -- break the coalitions into players that represent their smaller factions, and make the players have different goals, some of which are common, and some of which are competing.  This puts a very natural-feeling strain on the relationship, where the players know they have to work together, but they also don't want to help their ally too much or they won't accomplish their objectives.

This sounds simple, and in hindsight, it is.  However, cooperative competition was not a commonly used mechanic in wargames until these games came around.  Conflicts were nearly always simplified into two-sides, and if your teammate won, you won too, so there was a spirit of self-sacrifice for your ally that simply doesn't work for most modern warfare.

The mechanics work so well at bringing out the political reality for the factions.  The Americans and South Vietnamese can hold the cities, but it's nigh-impossible to dig out the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong from the jungles, and even connections between the cities are tenuous and need to be closely monitored.  Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese desperately need to take northern territory, something that is difficult in the face of American airstrikes.  The Viet Cong can strike anywhere, but don't have the strength to hold on for very long without aid from the North Koreans, but that threatens to wipe out the gains that they worked hard for.  The South Vietnamese mostly care about propping up their own regime, even if that means cracking down on the local populace, but those same people will flock to the Viet Cong banners if they press too hard.  Any one of these traits is difficult to model, and the fact that Fire in the Lake manages to get all of them is truly amazing.

 

Honorable Mention

American Megafauna (2001) - Phil Eklund has joined Martin Wallace as my favorite idiosynchratic game developer, and this is my favorite Phil Eklund game I've tried thusfar.  The sheer baroqueness of this title is what gives it the charm.  It would probably be game of the year if not for the fact that there is very little control here, and you can get caught in a terrible downward spiral that is not of your making.

Rampage, also reissued as Terror in Meeple City (2013) - I love the stupid NES game of the same name, and this is a pitch-perfect implementation of the same idea.  Sure, there's very little to this game, but the components and the madcap gameplay made this is the most fun I've had playing a dexterity game in years.

Factory Fun (2010) - I've not seen any other game combine speed, optimization, and spacial manipulation in the way that this game does.

Football Fever (1982) - Probably the best team-independent football game out there.  Not a ton of replayability because of that, but I don't think it would take too much to make this into something really special, and some leagues have apparently done just that.

 

Trend: Fantasy Flight Stagnation
Horus Heresy (2010)
Merchant of Venus (2012)
Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game – Wisdom and Warfare (2013)

Once upon a time, Fantasy Flight was my favorite publisher.  Between 2004 and 2011 they put out some of my favorite games ever, and the original hits poured in.  Twilight Imperium, A Game of Thrones, Mansions of Madness, Battlestar Galactica, and many others.  Even the games that I played that I didn't love tended to be very good.

It's now been since the release of Mansions of Madness in 2010 since FFG has released something new that I liked.  Horus Heresy was one of the last of the big box games that intrigued me, and it was mostly a noble failure with components that looked good but were very difficult to deal with.  Merchant of Venus had the classic version in the box, which was alright.  The FFG redux that was also included in the box was a mess that took away most of the character, and added some generic-feeling missions and travel mechanics without streamlining anything.  As for Sid Meier's Civilization... Well.  I loved Civilization when it first came out.  I thought it was a great implementation of the computer game, and I even gave it a Game of the Year award in 2010.  The more I played it, though, the more degenerate it got.  The base game developed serious balance issues as we played it more, and both of the expansions failed to create a truly balanced game.  In addition, the game got more and more unforgiving.  It stopped being fun to play, and became a 3+ hour chore.

The stagnation seems to be because they've lost their most talented designers.  Virtually every one of their original games during the 2004-2011 golden years had one of three designers on it: Christian Petersen, Corey Konieczka, and Kevin Wilson.  Petersen has mostly given up game design to be the CEO of the company.  Wilson is gone to become an independent game designer.  Konieczka has only done two original games since 2011, and both are Star Wars licensed.  I have no doubt that FFG continues to be a successful game company monetarily, but  they're not going to match the truly great games they used to put out until they reinvest in their in-house design team.

 

Trend: Kickstarter
Agents of Smersh (2012)
Arcadia Quest (2014)
Boss Monster: The Dungeon Building Card Game (2013)
Eight Minute Empire: Legends (2012)
Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia (2013)
Foretold: Rise of a God (2014)
The New Science (2013)

Kickstarter generally means that the art and components are wonderful, but the development is usually lacking.  Those traits are well-understood by the boardgame community at this point.  The new funding model is allowing a wider number of people to get into the industry, which means we're seeing more unique themes, more untested mechanics, and just plain more releases.

I have yet to support a Kickstarter game, and I doubt I ever will.  The model shifts most of the risk to the consumer, and the Kickstarters that are truly good go out through the regular distribution channels at much lower prices.  The promos that you get for being an early supporter are, by their very nature, inessential to the game.  But, I do hope Kickstarter keeps going.  KS has done a lot to add visibility to the hobby.  I have some reservations that the growth may be too fast, but it does not yet seem to be the case, and I'm tentatively hopeful that the growth will level off to a consistent, sustainable level for the hobby.

 

Trend: Clearing Out the Collection

I took the opportunity of our move to clean out my collection, which included a lot of games that I kinda wanted to play that I had accumulated over the years, but hadn't quite gotten around to getting on the table.  Predictably, most of them were pretty bad, which is probably the reason I had never gotten them to the table in the past.  There were a few notable exceptions including Factory Fun, and a few that I just couldn't evaluate until I got a few more plays in.  The move also forced me to do my first BGG auction, which was pretty successful and saw everything sell.  I managed to get all of my games onto one shelf in our new place, and I'm rededicating myself to keeping it that way.

 

Worst games

Firefly: The Game (2013) - I think my play was a bit exceptional, but I was caught in a situation from prior poor decisions where I had no choice but to try a skill check until I succeeded.  I tried five turns in a row, during which an hour and a half of my life elapsed that I will never get back.  I called it quits after that.

Magnifico (2008) - Promising dudes-on-a-map game with an off-the-wall theme ruined by inadequate playtesting.  The tanks never die, and you can attack with them on the same turn as you take them, so you take them and then plow over the other players, who just do the same thing on your turn.

another damn Civilization game (2011), Battue: Storm of the Horse Lords (2007), Family Business (1982), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2002), Slapshot (1982) -  I had accumulated a lot of games over the years that had appealing themes, and I got them at a bargain at one time or another.  As I was moving, it was time for these games to hit the table so that I could see if it was worth moving or not.  These were the worst of that set.  All had very obvious choices, degenerate gameplay, an absurd reliance on luck, or all of the above.

Cockroach Poker (2004) - Some of my gamer friends seem to like this, but I have no idea why.  There is nothing to this game other than guessing whether somebody is lying to you.  It's also degenerate, as you try to gang up on the loser.

Desperados of Dice Town (2014) - The strategy?  Roll actions.

Piña Pirata (2014) - I get the sense that it's not for the type of gamer that I am, but there's no decisions to make here.

Home Game Fantasy Football (1994) - One of the worst football sims out there.  Clearly trying to cash in on Fantasy Football, but included a joke of a board game just in case you didn't want to run your own league.

 

And here's the complete list of what I played for the first time last year.

Hanabi
Quest: A Time of Heroes
Memoir '44: Terrain Pack
Asante
Blokus 3D
Love Letter
Mundus Novus
The New Science
Suburbia
Agents of SMERSH
Antiquity
Chainmail
Eight-Minute Empire: Legends
Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia
Factory Fun
Horus Heresy
Italia
Jamaica
Lords of Waterdeep
Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport
Merchant of Venus (second edition)
Rio de la Plata
Sim City: The Card Game
Slapshot
Star Trek: The Adventure Game
Suburbia Inc
Terror in Meeple City
American Megafauna
another damn Civilization game
Arcadia Quest
Babel
Battue: Storm of the Horse Lords
Battue: The Walls of Tarsos
Bezzerwizzer
Bios: Megafauna
Boss Monster: The Dungeon Building Card Game
Cockroach Poker
Crown of Roses
Desperados of Dice Town
Executive Decision
Family Business
Famous First Downs: The World's Smallest Football Game
Felinia
Fire in the Lake
Firefly: The Game
Firefly: The Game – Artful Dodger
Firefly: The Game – Breakin' Atmo
Firefly: The Game – Mal's Pretty Floral Bonnet Promo Card
Firefly: The Game – Pirates & Bounty Hunters
Firefly: The Game – Wash's Lucky Dinosaurs Promo Card
Football Fever
Foretold: Rise of a God
Galaxy Trucker: The Big Expansion
The Gnomes of Zavandor
Greed
GridIron Master
Hey, That's My Fish!
Home Game Fantasy Football
Impulse
Justinian
Kittens in a Blender
Ladies & Gentlemen
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Magnifico
Masons
Metro
Morels
The New Science: Fantasy Scientists
NFL Franchise
Origins: How We Became Human
Phlounder
Piña Pirata
Poseidon
Qwirkle Cubes
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
Shoot Out
Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game – Wisdom and Warfare
Theseus: The Dark Orbit
Thinking Man's Football
Ticket to Ride: Europe
Tokaido
Tokaido: Crossroads
TPOC: The Politics of Cannibals
Trajan
Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar – Tribes & Prophecies
Village
Village Inn
Zilch

2013: Best of Games

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Best Innovative Wargame

Polis: Fight for the Hegemony (2010)

I'm not sure where Polis came from.  Well, it came from Spain, given that the designer, playtesters, and publisher are all Spanish.  But mechanically, I don't see the genesis at all, which is truly incredible.  Most of the mechanics here are very new, with the ability to trade goods overseas with an interesting market mechanic, a taxing system that I've never seen before, and a prestige/VP track that is completely interwoven into the gameplay so that it doesn't feel like empty VPs, but rather a resource and non-arbitrary way of determining a winner.  The end result is a true Euro-wargame blend, one that feels uncomplicated and clean like the best euros, but feels thematic and has important positional play and direct conflict like a war game.  There have been other Euro-wargames before, but nothing that feels like this.

The gameplay is ruthlessly tight.  The setup is the same every time, and the randomness is very low, which makes planning out turns more like an abstract than the "react to what happens" of your typical wargame.  One mistake tends to have a ripple effect, so that by the time you're four turns down the road, you finally realize that you should have made a different decision four turns back.  I have some worries about the game becoming scripted, but the Boardgamegeek community hasn't figured it out yet, which means that I'll probably have a whole lot of time before I find anything approaching the optimal strategy.  I'm three games in, and every time I've looked forward to the next play.  This game really has some staying power.

 

Best Multiplayer Wargame

Pax Britannica (1985)

Negotiation, and crisp history, and a very different set of objectives for all seven different nations?  What's not to love?  There's no closer simulation I've found for the colonial era.  Lots of games have a theme of exploration and exploitation set in this time period, but few have the chutzpah to simulate it over the whole world, or over this length of time.  The different nations also are significantly differentiated, making the whole of the game divided quite sharply into haves and have-nots, a hallmark of the era.  Historical gameplay is not only a possibility, but is likely to develop simply because of the geography of the board.  The prestige and self-identity of these nations was so crucial to the philosophy and justification of colonial policy, and it too is shown here, in the form of heavy negotiation.  There's even the ever-increasing likelihood that World War I will be triggered every time a nation refuses to cooperate.  The game does so, so well at showing how the colonial era began, progressed, and finally reached its explosive endpoint. 

I do have some qualms about the politics of this game.  The theme of this game is already rather problematic, what with the great European powers all going off and claiming the rest of the worldas if there wasn't anybody there already.  Nonetheless, it happened, and trying to pretend that it didn't isn't going to fix anything, so I don't have a problem with the game's realistic depiction of events.  However, the designer's notes are of an old-guard colonialist sticking to his guns, and insisting that colonialism really wasn't that bad.  Well, it was that bad.  Anytime you have a culture taking away the basic freedoms of another culture, there's a moral wrong being committed.  There's no question that it led to the worldwide economy we have now, and ushered in an era of prosperity for a certain section of the world, but it was hardly a global good.  Still, it's my belief that the game can be enjoyed while acknowledging the evils that happened.  There's nothing inherent in the rules that forces an antiquated viewpoint, and it's very possible to play the game while coming to a greater understanding of why this era was so problematic.

 

Best Reimplementation of a Popular Franchise

Axis & Allies Europe 1940 (2010)
Axis & Allies Pacific 1940 (2009)

This is an absolutely incredible addition to a series that is well-known.  With these two games combined into the global war, Axis and Allies has finally delivered on its promise to simulate the whole war.  Sure, there are still a few questionable historical choices.  It's still a good strategy for Japan to invade Russia through Siberia, and the Italian navy is actually useful, presumably to give the Italian player something to do.  These make as little sense as they did in the previous editions, but most of the rest of the cheesy ahistorical gaminess is gone.  A little bit of chrome has been laid over the top of the system in the form of National Objectives and air- and naval-bases.  These have swung the game to focusing on the geographical chokepoints that the war revolved around historically.  It's a great example of how a judicious amount of extra rules can lead to a historical feel without making the game feel ponderously slow.

Even better than the improved history, however, there's no one-size-fits-all strategy here as there is in the previous editions (hint: buy infantry).  Each nation has a fundamental choice of several different approaches.  The strategic goals remain the same -- Germany still needs to hold off the Allies until it can defeat Russia, for instance.  But the fashion in which you reach those goals has a plethora of options.  In our Germany case, she can build air units and sea units to sink the Allied transports, or land units to wage a back-and-forth land battle and keep throwing the Allies back into the ocean.

Grizzled wargamers may turn their noses up at this, but it's worth playing.  It's the best simulation of the whole war that I know of.

 

Honorable Mentions

7 Ages (2004) - Goes down the rabbit hole that History of the World eschews.  What if we actually gave each empire the chance to keep growing unchecked?  It's an amazing scope of history game that manages to weave technology and emergent empires into a game that naturally sends the old empires into decline.   

Clash of Cultures (2012) - May very well be deserving of the best-of-year award, but I only got one play in, and I don't feel qualified to judge it based only on that one play.  Hits all the high points of Civilization design, including exploration, growth, conflict, and a great tech tree.

Scripts and Scribes (later released as Biblios) (2007) - The first filler I've enjoyed this much in quite some time.  Very fast, and full of decisions throughout the game.  Perfect example of what ruthlessly tight design can be.

Terra Mystica (2012) - Token Euro for this list.  Timing and growth decisions are interesting, and the variable player powers feel actually relevant, unlike most Euros.  Theme is a bit generic, and I'm not sure I'll still love it four plays from now, but it shows promise.

 

Trend: Thematic, warty games

For a long time, I've been migrating away from mechanics-driven Euros to theme-driven wargames, but this year had an especially large number of new games that were theme-first, gameplay second.  The games that take this approach are a bit more fragile -- sometimes they are group-dependent and sometimes the decisions are not satisfying.  Nevertheless, when one of these games works well, it provides an experience that can never be matched by cube crunchers.  Aside from the aforementioned Pax Britannia and 7 Ages above, I played a lot of these games this year: MIL (1049)CO₂Greed IncorporatedDinosaurs of the Lost WorldGumshoe, and Age of Renaissance all fit into this mold, and although a few were stinkers, I'm really glad I played every single one.

 

Worst

Chaos Marauders (1987, I played 2007 rerelease) and Dungeon Roll (2013) - These are two generic fantasy themed, game-plays-you kind of games.  One has cards, and one has dice.  In both, the luckiest person is going to win, every time. 

Card Football: Premiere Edition (2006) - Draw poker where you try to outguess your opponent and save hands for the best time.  The football part is distracting and nonsensical.

Pizza Box Football Expansion (2005) - One of the worst expansions to a game ever, simply because it changes almost nothing.  The extra playcalls were already in the base box, and the team ratings both barely make a difference and are only in a scale of 1-3, meaning that most of the 32 teams in the box are duplicates of each other.

Risk: Transformers (2007) - All the problems of regular Risk, but with a cheap gimmicky board and no connection to the theme.

 

Complete List of All New-to-me Games Played in 2013

Cards Against Humanity: Third Expansion
Age of Industry
Gumshoe
MIL (1049)
10 Days in Asia
20th Century
7 Ages
Age of Industry Expansion #1: Japan and Minnesota
Bananagrams
Biblios
Burrows
Chaos Marauders
CO₂
Forbidden Island
Greed Incorporated
Leaping Lemmings
Ore: The Mining Game
Polis: Fight for the Hegemony
Ren Faire
Suspend
World at War: Blood and Bridges
World of Warcraft Trading Card Game
Ad Astra
Age of Mythology: The Boardgame
Age of Renaissance
Alcatraz: The Scapegoat
Australian Rails
Automobile
Axis & Allies Europe 1940
Axis & Allies Pacific 1940
Berserker Halflings from the Dungeon of Dragons
Black Gold
Blood Bowl (Third Edition)
Bushido: Der Weg des Kriegers
Card Football: Premiere Edition
Cards Against Humanity: Fourth Expansion
Cards Against Humanity: The Bigger, Blacker Box
The Castles of Burgundy
Clash of Cultures
Dinosaurs of the Lost World
Dominion: Dark Ages
Dungeon Dice
Dungeon Roll
Eminent Domain
España 1936
Fantastiqa
Gauntlet of Fools
Glenn Drover's Empires: The Age of Discovery - Builder Expansion
Joker Marbles
Keyflower
Kingdom Builder: Nomads
Kings & Things
Lost Cities: The Board Game
Magdar
Micro Mutants: Evolution
NFL Rush Zone
Pandemic: In the Lab
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords - Base Set
Pax Britannica
Penny Arcade: Paint The Line ECG: Red Tide
Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League
Pizza Box Football Expansion
Risk: Transformers
Rum & Pirates
Runebound (Second Edition)
Runebound: Midnight
Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan
Sentinels of the Multiverse
Sewer Pirats
Sim City: The Card Game
Small World: Cursed!
Space Cadets
Strasbourg
Terra Mystica
To Court the King
The Trial of Socrates
Wealth of Nations

 

Donald X. Vaccarino is the Absurd Culmination of the Cult of the New

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I played Dominion, Gauntlet of Fools, and Kingdom Builder tonight.  All three games are designed by Donald X. Vaccarino.  It's not often that I play three of a single designer's games in the space of a month, much less a single evening.  It made me realize something that's been bugging me about his designs: his designs, for all they seem to enhance replayability, actually eliminate what I'm looking for when replaying a game.

Vaccarino's first design, Dominion, made a huge splash when it came out.  Not only did it introduce the new mechanic of deck building, it  also came with a neat little perk -- there was a lot of replayability in the box.  Besides the base cards, there were 25 different Kingdom cards, and only 10 of them got used in any given game.  Dominion righfully exploded in popularity, shooting into the top 10 on Boardgamegeek and winning a well-deserved Spiel des Jahres.

Vaccarino has come out with several other games now, and he's an established name.  He's even nabbed another SdJ with Kingdom Builder.  His games follow a simple structure.  First, establish an extremely simple framework.  Then, come up with a great number of extremely small variants, variants of the type that are more frequently put in some sort of special card deck (like in Yspahan or Goa),  or are packaged as micro-expansions (like Spielbox expansions or the ones from the Alea Treasure Chest) and randomize these variants so that only a small subset are used in any given game.  Finally, make sure that all players have similar access to these variants, so that the game balances itself, either through an auction, a race, or simple lack of scarcity.

The end result is a boxed game that has a high perceived replayability, because it has a huge number of permutations.  Dominion's choose-10-from-25 leads to an absurd number of more than 3 million different combinations, meaning that you can play just the basegame for the rest of your life and be unlikely to see the same set twice.

But, -- here's where I diverge from the "infinite replayability" hivemind -- Vaccarino's games' frameworks are too simple to support the best parts of replayability.  With Vaccarino's games, the emphasis switches from the framework to the variants, and thus replaying a game is like playing a whole different game.  When I replay a game, I don't want a new game.  I don't want a whole new problem to solve.  I want strategic fine-tuning.  I want to be able to make semi-consistent valuations of actions and resources.  I want to feel that there's a very good chance that something I learn this game can directly teach me something for next game.  

Kingdom Builder is the ultimate expression of Vaccarino's design pattern, and resultant dying of replayability.  The basic framework is so simple it's almost insulting -- take a card, then put three houses on a terrain of that card, playing next to your current houses if possible.  If you settled on one scoring system with that mechanic, the resulting game is more akin to a mass-market children's game than to something you would pull out at game night.

But, like Batman, this is the board game that our hobby deserves, not the one that we need.  This is the absurdist endpoint for the endless procession of new games that come out, get played, and get forgotten almost immediately. Sure the new setup with every game might make it seem like this is one game to play over and over again, but the experience is so different every time that the game has no relationship to itself from session to session. You're almost guaranteed never to see the same setup twice; the game's next session is, once again, tabula rasa. And this is why it's the ultimate expression of cult of the new -- you don't even have to go to the trouble of buying a new game to find the next experience, because this one is designed to be forgotten immediately after the session is played so that you can play a whole different game next time.

Of course, this begs the question: Why hasn't this replaced the buying habit for so many folks? The bitter Ameritrasher in me says that it's because Eurogamers have more money than sense and are particularly vulnerable to the cult-of-the-new, but that seems a bit too pat. After all, the cult-of-the-new was not invented with the Eurogame.  The numerous cookie-cutter hex-and-counter wargames or dudes-on-a-map Ameritrash titles from the 70s and 80s are expressions of cult-of-the-new sameyness when other genres predominated.  For every Panzer Blitz or Dune, there are hundreds of games that time has forgotten.  No, it's not just a symptom of Euro fans.

The real reason is, for all that we gamers trumpet replayability, we crave the novelty of a new game more than we do replaying our favorites.  Breaking the shrink on a new game is exciting, and taking a game through its traces for the first time even more so.  There's never more possibility in a game than when you first buy it.  You can explain that away as Western consumer instinct at work, but it's also more fundamental than that.  A new game represents potential in a way that an old game, even an old favorite, never will.

Vaccarino's games never regain that newness after you play them a few times, for all their variability.  Instead, they hover in this strange in-between, not quite novel, and not quite familiar.  No, keep your Donald X. games, please.  I'll stick to true replayability when I want it, and novelty when I don't.  Vaccarino's split-the-difference approach is the worst of both worlds.

The most literary piece on boardgames I've ever read

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This isn't a "repost things I found on the internet" kind of blog, but sometimes I can't help myself.

This board game session report is astounding at first glance for its length, but what truly sets it apart is the fact that it is written as a literary think piece.  Yes, friends, this is one of the few times when the veil is lifted and the boardgaming hobby creates art.  I have read nothing like this in more than 10 years of gaming.

It may, perhaps, be too dense for non-boardgamers, but I hope not.  From where I'm standing, this is a "Why we play boardgames" manifesto disguised as a novella disguised as an internet post.

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
 

Going Cardboard

Going Cardboard is a documentary about board games, and as such, I needed to see it.  This is a great idea, and the fact that Lorien Greene was willing to track down industry luminaries, drag a camera to mostly camera non-friendly events, perform interviews, and edit the resulting footage into a feature-length documentary as a personal project is a great service to the hobby.  Going Cardboard won't be remembered as a watershed moment in boardgaming, but it is not for lack of effort or passion on the part of the creator.  I am extremely happy that such a documentary exists.

But...

This is a small release film by a single person, with all the usual things that means.  It's difficult to find a copy, the film/audio quality is sometimes inferior, and the creator is often a bit too close to the trees to see the forest.

The goal is to present an overview of modern hobby boardgaming, though I never found the thesis clearly stated.  The movie is part love letter to a small hobby, and part proselytizing.  This is somewhat problematic, as the movie seems to be trying to find a place with both the hardcore gaming crowd and the uninitiated.  In trying to serve both audiences, it mostly misses on both counts.

As a hardcore gamer, I found that a lot of the interviews seemed to push the conventional wisdom of the greater boardgaming hivemind.  If Alan Moon or Derk or Jay Tummelson says it, it lends it a bit more gravitas, but it doesn't change the fact that it's well-understood in hobby circles.

It is instructive to compare King of Kong, the granddaddy of small-hobby documentaries.  KoK is clearly made by outsiders looking in, allowing them to knowingly elbow the audience, and say "Can you believe these guys?" Going Cardboard mostly lacks that context.  Many times the movie sounds like an echo chamber for hobby gamers to pat themselves on the back.

And entire parts of the hobby are glossed over or omitted entirely.  There's very little discussion of wargames or Ameritrash, and only the briefest, uninstructive discussion of BoardGameGeek.  In some ways, this feels like boardgaming circa 2002 -- Euros dominate everything, the web is a mere shadow in the boardgaming world, and the Spiel des Jahres reigns supreme as the unquestioned jewel in the crown for boardgaming.

So that means that, presumably, this documentary is supposed to be for the uninitiated boardgamer, the friend or relative who doesn't understand modern boardgaming.  The problem is, I wouldn't give this documentary to a friend who wants to understand hobby games -- I'd just play a game with them, or failing that, just give them a copy of Settlers of Catan.  Boardgaming, for all its faults, doesn't suffer from a way to bring people into the hobby.  There's very little prior knowledge required to play on of our games, just a willingness to learn rules.

All that said, I am very glad I bought this, because the special features do everything that the feature film fails to do.  Alan Moon discusses his time at Avalon Hill for some much needed context for the hobby.  Corey Konieczka discusses the licensing and development process at Fantasy Flight.  Derk fleshes out the history of BoardGameGeek (though I still would like a bit more discussion of its impact on the boardgaming hobby).  Best of all, perhaps, Christoph Boelinger shows off the film footage that went into the Dungeon Twister promotional video.  The special features run at least as long as the movie, and nearly every one is a fascinating story.  They don't have the narrative flow of the feature, but they work well in assembling a whole out of pieces.  This is where the hobby is truly brought to life.

star star star star star star no star no star no star no star

Using jobs to speed up play in Twilight Imperium: 3rd Edition

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I have a group who is willing to play Twilight Imperium and really likes it, but is, as a whole, quite exasperated by how long it takes. We’ve implemented most of the variants and rule change suggestions to keep the game short. For players looking for those suggestions, check out Jim Lederer’s suggestions file.

Despite cutting out the fat from the rules, the game is still running too slowly. Why?  Because we tend to lose the thread of the game.  Our group really likes to talk. A lot.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Socializing keeps the group happy, brings people together, and gives something for people to do when the game isn't occupying their full attention.  It's a big reason I play board games more than video games.  I'm as guilty of talking too much as anyone else in my group.

But, this is a particularly problematic for a game like Twilight Imperium.  The active player is constantly changing due to threaded turns, and the game doesn't even have a consistent order of play -- usually gameplay is done in strategy card order, but when a player takes a strategic action, it suddenly becomes clockwise instead.  Add the fact that strategy card order changes constantly, and it is very easy to lose track of whose turn it is.  At that point, we start chatting, and when we start chatting, we get more likely to lose track of whose turn it is.  You undoubtedly see where this is going.

So, as a remedy to this, I’ve come up witha proposal: jobs to keep the players engaged during gameplay.  The idea is that these jobs will keep players focused on the game.  Players will still be able to talk when not actively engaged, but there will be less danger of losing the entire thread of the game.  This will hopefully result in faster games, and happier players.

 

Gameflow tracker - This person’s job is to make sure that a player knows immediately when it is his/her turn. This is the single most important person to keep the game moving.

  • When a player’s turn comes up, the manager should announce “Player X’s turn, Player Y on deck.” The active player then announces the type of action they are taking.
  • When a player is doing a transfer action or a tactical action, the manager should immediately notify the next player that they have the option to take their turn if they do not need to see the end result of the previous player’s turn. This is particularly common when a player is building.
  • When somebody takes a strategic action, this person is responsible for making sure the other players take the secondary action if they wish.  Often this can be done concurrently with the initial strategic action.
  • This player is also responsible for directing traffic during other times, such as the assembly or political strategic turn, the status phase, and the strategy phase.
  • This player should consistently be on the lookout for ways to step up the pace.  Gameflow should not be stopped unless absolutely necessary.  Rules checks can usually be approached with common sense, and altered after the fact if found to be incorrect.   

Rules arbitrator - This person is responsible for answering general rules questions and looking up rulings on the FAQ or on BGG if necessary. This should be the person is most familiar with the game, as they can answer most queries without consulting the rules.

Build monitor - This person is responsible for double-checking players’ builds against space dock build limits and resource expenditure. When building, players set aside the planets and trade goods used for resources, as well as units built. They then show the build monitor the build, and if the build gets approval, the ships go on the board.

Combat moderator - This person is responsible for keeping a running combat value and abilities tally for ALL players’ units. This involves checking all values at the beginning of the game, modifying for racial abilities, and altering as necessary when technologies are purchased. The combat moderator should be able to be quickly and easily set up a battle board when space or invasion combat occurs, and should have a full grasp on all other combat abilities including pre-combat items like anti-fighter barrage and bombardment.

Card manager - This person is responsible for managing action cards, political cards, and objectives. They maintain and check currently enacted laws, assign victory points for claimed objectives, artifacts, and bonuses, and distribute action cards and political cards.

 

If there are more than five players, you can either split the roles, or you can just allow the other players to get a free ride from everybody else's work.  :)

As a side note, it would be really awesome if there was an Excel file or application that could automatically calculate the to-hit numbers for all units. Something that has checkboxes for the techs and races, and would spit out to-hit numbers for each type of ship. As a bonus, it could also have a battle flow that would dynamically add steps as techs and races complicated the battle flow. There’s a few tools out there now, but all of the ones I could find either don’t account for all expansions or don’t have both techs and races accounted for. Perhaps someday when I have a free weekend...

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
Android
Dixit
God's Playground
Innovation
Patton's Best
Pirate King
Quarriors!
Quicksand
Regatta
The Road to Canterbury
Skull & Roses
Slide 5
World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game
Yomi
A la carte
Aargh!Tect
Apples to Apples Mod
Ascension: Return of the Fallen
Auf Achse
Bermuda Triangle
Blood Bowl: Team Manager - The Card Game
Byzantium
Cathedral
Cave Troll
Chaos in the Old World: The Horned Rat Expansion
DICEcapades
Dixit 2
Dominion: Seaside
Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game
Earth Reborn
Empires in Arms
A Few Acres of Snow
Finca
Football Strategy
Fortress America
Gobblet
Le Havre: Le Grand Hameau
Himalaya
Iliad
Ironman Football
Johnny Unitas' Football
Kaivai
Khronos
Kingsburg: To Forge a Realm
League of Six
Lokomotive Werks
London
Mage Knight Board Game
Magical Athlete
MegaCorps
Merchants & Marauders
Minnesota Trivia
New World
Power Grid: Brazil/Spain & Portugal
Power Grid: Russia & Japan
Power Struggle
Primordial Soup
RattleSnake
Samurai (1979 Avalon Hill)
Sobek
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
Tichu
Torres
TransEuropa
Tribond
Urban Sprawl
Word on the Street
World of Warcraft: The Boardgame - The Burning Crusade
Yellowstone

Played this week: War of the Ring: Battles of the Third Age, Pirate King, Apples to Apples Mod, more

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This was one of those weeks where I ended up playing a lot of different games, almost without trying.  Not only did I get together with Peter for non-WAGN gaming, there was also some spontaneous gaming that happened when I got together with Rob, and also at Jesse's birthday party.

 

The biggest game I played this week was the Rohan scenario from the expansion-that-isn't-an-expansion for War of the Ring, titled Battles of the Third Age.  There are a limited number of components for actually expanding the base game, which I find mostly superfluous.  And, although I'm done with the base game, after having played it more than ten times and having long ago gotten tired of the hunt mechanics, I do enjoy this game.  I had played the Gondor scenario once before, and it has kept me from trading this base game.  I've been eager to get this expansion back to the table, and now that I've gotten a chance to play it again, I'm definitely keeping the game, at least for now. 

These tactical games are very interesting.  They're just a bit more dense than the base game.  I'm not sure if I'd feel the same way if I played the Free Peoples.  Both plays thusfar have been Shadow player, which put me on the offensive, and thus forced the other player to react to me, rather than vice versa.

This play was definitely a cracker, with me storming Peter very well before he pushed me back and almost kicked me off the board before I could muster up another army, and eventually come back to push him out of Edoras.  Not very often does a game have this many seesaws, and I definitely enjoyed it.  Base game 7/10, expansion 8/10.

 

Got in a play of RoboRally as well, when Rob wanted to get together and play some games.  It had been some time since I pulled this out, and I had a great time with it.  I think I might like this game more when I'm losing than when I'm winning.  I certainly enjoyed this one, and I was in a very distant last place for most of the game.  7/10

 

I have a rule of thumb that I have to play any game in my collection at least twice before it is allowed to leave my collection, unless I got that game from a thrift store.  And sometimes a game makes me well and truly regret it.  Pirate King definitely made me regret my rule.  I swear there could be a good game in here.  After all, it doesn't sound awful when you read the rules.  And even though it sucked the first time, the cutthroat rules might improve it, right?  Nope.  Nothing fixes the fact that the money mechanics are designed to punish players who fall behind, just like this game's inspiration, Monopoly.  We didn't even finish this second play.  I will be happy to show this game the door.  I'm hopeful that I can get something for it from somebody who wants to part this out for its wonderful components.  4/10

 

I played Ingenious.  What does one say to describe a play of Ingenious?  "I played a bunch of tiles that matched similar shaped together, but not as effectively as Ben H."  There, that should fulfill my contractual obligation.  6/10

 

For the first time ever, I saw another copy of Big Boggle, one that is not my parents' copy that has my childhood scrawling in brown marker all over the box.  And I rocked the other players hard.  So hard that after the second game, I resorted to only writing down five letter words, to call less attention to myself.  Not sure why, but I was apparently in the zone.  5/10

 

I also played Apples to Apples Mod.  I refuse to waste more time writing about this monstrosity, so here's my comment from BGG, which I think sums it up pretty well. 

Holy god, how did they manage to make Apples to Apples worse? You have the same extremely unfun judging mechanics that you can find in the original, but now there's an extra boring step of trying to figure out what adjective the judge wants to think up. And, there's very few noun cards in this version. You're likely to have the same ones come up in the same game. And many of those cards aren't going to be very relevant in 5 years. Beyonce? Emo kids? This is going to be as badly dated as that Genus I Trivial Pursuit that this box will probably rest on top of in your aunt's closet.

2/10, and I almost wish I had let myself give it a 1.

 

 

Played this week: Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, 7 Wonders, Liberte

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Little lighter on the games this week, but did get a pair of new ones.

 

I'm not quite sure how I managed to miss Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, but somehow a big-box release from Fantasy Flight Games managed to get by my radar without me paying much attention.  I suppose that FFG has finally reached that critical mass of releases where I simply can't keep up anymore.  It feels like it's really picked up over the last several years, starting with that crazy Gencon where they released Chaos in the Old World at the same time as Middle Earth Quest and Ad Astra back in 2009.  Since then, I haven't even been able to play all their coffin-box releases, much less all their big box releases.

LotR: TCG is founded on one very cool combination, which is mixing collectible card game deck construction with cooperative gameplay.  It's got a lot of elements of A Game of Thrones CCG, a system which I have dabbled in but never fully embraced.  This game, like the AGoT: CCG game, also is built around an LCG system, where you don't need to buy everything if you're a completist.  At this point, a CCG needs to be either self-contained or dead for me to even consider it, as I've been down that Magic: The Spendening wormhole before and have vowed never again after they made all my old cards with the ridiculous ramping up of power that happened during the Urza's and Masques blocks.

As for the gameplay of LotR: TCG, it's good.  I only had the briefest chance to try out a bit of deck construction, but it looks like it could appeal.  There's not a big enough library yet for this to be really robust, but it could get interesting if they keep adding to it.  I'm not going to go out and buy this anytime soon, but I'd be happy to play it again.  7/10

 

The latest big hype has definitely been 7 Wonders, which is approaching the top 10 on BGG with surprising rapidity.  I hadn't particularly been seeking it out, but Rob got a copy and brought it to WAGN.  The game made me a convert, even though I was definitely expecting to hate it.  We screwed up lots of rules, especially the one that doesn't allow anybody to build two of the same building, but I can see the interest in this game.  I am really shocked that such a quick, multiplayer card game caught my attention and held it, when so many other widely-hyped games in that genre have not really entertained me, like Dominion, and Race for the Galaxy.  The deal and the adjacency of the different wonders makes this game seem as if it's got a while.  With the possibility for expansions, this game could become a real winner in my book.  7/10

 

I also got in one play of the new version of Liberte, which seems superior in every way I could think of to the old version.  There are now contemporary portraits of the leaders, which makes them decidedly more interesting.  The colors on the cards match those on the boards, and the wooden components look higher quality, brighter, and less generic.  I've traded away my old version now, and though I don't think I'll be buying the new version, I'm glad another copy found its way into the group.  7/10

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