2007 was quite a year for me and the gaming hobby. While I’ve never really tracked my plays before, I am positively certain that the 647 plays of 143 different games totally blows away any previously held gaming record from any other time in my life. And who I have most to thank for this true renaissance in my gaming life are Denise and Nick Shepherd for opening up Hypermind, my totally fantastic FLGS, as well as all the great people that are involved in our weekly game night there. Anyway, I thought I’d go through some of the multitude of games I’ve played this past year and point out a few that I’ve played most (check out my whole five & dime list here) and those that I think are the real cream of the crop. While most of these aren’t really new games, they were all pretty much new to me in 2007, and I wanted to share with the larger gaming world what I now consider to be some of my all-time favorite games.
Well, without question, the game I’ve played most this year is Reef Encounter. The catch is that, of the 66 plays I recorded for it, only one was actually done face-to-face. The rest were all on the wonderful play-by-email site SpielByWeb. Reef Encounter is a truly fantastic game that is extremely well-suited to online, turn-based play. I’ve had a pretty good knack with it from the beginning, and currently have a 38% win percentage. If you haven’t tried out Reef Encounter (which I really need to bring to game night some this year) or SBW before, I heartily recommend both.
Other online games that made my five-and-dime lists included Amun-Re (which I suck at) and Wallenstein from SBW, as well as Hansa and Samurai on MaBiWeb (where Michael Schacht and others regularly beat the crap out of me). These sites really seem to fit in with my lifestyle really well, because finding time to jump onto a real-time online site like BrettSpeilWelt just never seems to happen. On MaBi and SBW, however, I can log in when I have a few minutes and play out my turns in whichever games have gotten back around to me. And all of the games that I’ve mentioned work really well in this format (maybe even better than in person in some cases) and have really excellent implementations. Okay, enough with the electronic stuff, on to “real” game plays.
My second-most-played game is 10 Days in the USA, which represents another cool category of games from 2007, those that I’ve played with my wife! Close behind is The Settlers of Catan, which Gwen and I mainly play with Nick Borko’s 2-player variant. Other favorites for our time together include Ticket to Ride, Cartagena, and the new 10 Days in Asia. I’ve recently picked up a few other games that I hope will be regular 2-player games for us, including Thebes, Mr. Jack, and 1960: The Making of the President (which she’s already played once and liked enough to ask for again!)
Another whole class of games that make a big impact on playlists everywhere are filler games, the best of which get played back-to-back in batches. Top in this group is Liar’s Dice, which got a total of 25 plays, mostly accumulated at the end of one boardgame night or another. As I said in my review of the game, Liar’s Dice is a really great game that has universal appeal. Other most-played fillers include Tier auf Tier, Diamant (which I also used as a gateway game a few times), and Hive.
Straddling the line between filler and “real” game, Taluva comes in next on the list with 14 plays. Taluva was one of our Games of the Month! at the Hypermind BoardGamers, and it has remained a go-to game when there wasn’t time or interest for longer, more involved games. It also works as a great transition game for people that may be used to more traditional abstracts.
On a similar note, I had 13 plays of Wits & Wagers last year, which was my highest played party game. Both with gamers and non-gamers alike, I’ve been able to get this to the table and have a lot of fun with it every time.
So, finally, on to my most-played “gamers’ games”. At the top is BattleLore, which I got to the table 12 times in 2007. I got this for Christmas last year, and have been spending money on expansions on it ever since. It’s just such a great, expandable game that keeps adding more options both in unit selection as well as in setup and gameplay. Of all the expansions, I think that Epic BattleLore is the best, mainly because I like the larger scale and the ability to potentially play two cards per turn. While I also like the idea of Call to Arms and some of the options it gives, it also seems to make the one real flaw of the game (long setup to play ratio) even worse. Of the specialist packs, I think that the Goblin Skirmishers (gotta love hobgoblin spearmen!) and the 100 Years’ War are the best, but I own them all and there are good things about each of them. With all the time and money that I’ve invested in BattleLore, I really need to find even more time to play it in 2008.
Like I’ve mentioned several times before on GamerChris, we started the Game of the Month! program at the Hypermind BoardGamers pretty early on, which had a predictable impact on my game play this year. Therefore Arkadia, The Princes of Florence, Citadels, The Pillars of the Earth, Tigris & Euphrates, and Betrayal at House on the Hill all made at least the “fives” list. I really like having at least one game each week that is a given, and how we can all become more comfortable with it and begin to really understand a deeper level of strategy. Since several of these games will show up in the next section as well, let’s get on with…
There are a lot of ways to handle these “best of the year” lists, so I’ve decided to divide things up into a few different categories, where I’ll give a “short list” of games that impressed me for each as well as the overall winner of the category. I’ve done something similar in survey form for all of the Hypermind BoardGamers to participate in, but these listed here are just my own personal thoughts about each area.
When you play games on a weekly basis, you end up playing a lot of filler games. Of the 20+ such games I’ve gotten to the table, the ones that rise to the top are Pitch Car, , Liar’s Dice, For Sale, Tier auf Tier, and Diamant. All of these are great little games that I would play most anytime, but the one that really stands out to me is Cartagena.
Cartagena is such a simple little game that packs a heck of a lot of depth. There’s a nice amount of luck with the card draws to keep things light, but success most consistently comes from wise use of your pirates; knowing when to back them up to draw cards, how to space them appropriately, and how not to set up your opponents. It’s probably my favorite race game, and I love to play it with anywhere from 2-5 players. If you don’t own this little gem, go out and pick it up!
Favorite Abstract Strategy Game
While I don’t play an overabundance of abstract games, I enjoy their simplicity of focus every so often. Some of the ones that have impressed me the most this year include Hive, Ricochet Robots, Taluva, Qwirkle and Blokus. Predictably, my choice in this category is the one that made Game of the Month!, Taluva.
Taluva has the focus and simplicity of traditional abstract games, but has the look of a more heavily-themed game. The thick cardboard tiles are just beautiful, and the completed island at the end of the game is usually very impressive. I also like the fact that there are multiple paths to victory and several different yet viable strategies. I can knock out a 2-player game in less than 10 minutes these days, but can also spend minutes at a time agonizing over a move in a tight 4-player game. Great depth + great look = great game!
Favorite Gateway Game
I’m not going to make a big deal of this category, because I’m not being terribly original with it. My short list includes Diamant, Zooloretto, and Taluva, but the winner is, of course, Ticket to Ride. I’d pick something else, but simply put there just is nothing better out there. A lot of games come close, but TtR just has that magical blend of fun, simplicity, theme, and depth that strikes a chord in so many people. Even if nothing better comes out this year, I promise to pick a different game next time!
Most Thematic Game
On the Hypermind BoardGamers’ survey, I described this as the games which have the “best incorporation of setting and theme“. I enjoy all kinds of games, but those that live on most in my memory are the ones that draw me into their own world and build a story through gameplay. This category was an attempt to honor those games that were most evocative in their theme and setting. My short list included , 1960:The Making of the President, Fury of Dracula, , and Shadows Over Camelot.
In the end, I appreciate most how Fury of Dracula tackles what is probably the most difficult melding of theme and mechanics of the whole bunch. The Fantasy Flight edition feels very streamlined but also remains diligent to the core idea that it is a game about tracking a hidden Dracula through Europe. I’ve only had two chances to play so far, but I still think and talk about both sessions like they were played just last week. I really need to try it from the hunters’ side, and would like to try it as a 2-player game, just to see if it holds up as well under those conditions as well.
Coolest Game Mechanics
My description for this category is that it covers games
with “the most elegant, innovative, or all-around best game mechanics“. Three games all immediately come to mind here: Ra, The Princes of Florence, and China. Ra’s basic idea, continuous auctions to collect tiles, actually seems pretty boring. But instead, all of the little tweaks to the system make it an exhilarating merry-go-round of fun!. Similarly, the “mish-mash” of mechanics in PoF has the potential to be a big, confusing mess, but the tightness of design and amazing economy of resources makes it purr like a well-oiled machine.
In the final evaluation, however, China is the game that stands out most for elegance in design. It is so efficient and quick, while still maintaining a level of strategic depth greater than many other games that are far longer and more complex. It seems almost magical how all of the scoring is completely interdependent; it’s just so intuitive and “organic” feeling to see how more focus spent in an area is reflected in the greater scoring possibilities there. Simply put, China is a masterpiece that has a firm place in my all-time top 10 games.
Favorite Game of the Year
Okay, this is the one for all the marbles. I’m sure that the game I choose will soon be reprinted with “GamerChris Game of the Year” stickers all over it. So, as I feel the gravity of this tremendous responsibility, I think that I’ll take a minute to discuss the five finalists for this illustrious honor.
5) Struggle of Empires – SoE is such a cool game. When an auction for turn order and alliances can last for 30 minutes and still keep you on the edge of your seat, something really special is going on. War, politics, strategy, and efficient euro game mechanics all come together to make this a true classic. The only drawback is a play time that can stretch up to 3-4 hours… but it’s always worth it when you can get it to the table!
4) 1960: The Making of the President – If this had come out a little earlier in the year, it would probably be even higher on my list. Regardless, this streamlined card-driven masterpiece captures the theme of a presidential election so incredibly well in an approachable yet extremely replayable set of rules. Play is quick and decisions are tough, and the smallest events and actions can have a major effect on the game (particularly in the later turns). This is one of those rare games that I keep thinking about, trying to figure out new strategies to try and weighing the importance of various actions and events. And best of all, my wife even likes it!
3) Shadows Over Camelot – Shadows is a thoroughly entertaining game with a very real feeling of tension in the endgame. The theme is fantastic and well-integrated, and the “cooperative with a traitor” concept is just so cool. I could gush on and on about it, but I won’t, so hopefully you get the picture that it’s a great game that appeals to almost everybody.
2) Tigris & Euphrates – Despite the vague theme and rough terrain of the map, T&E is wide-open for players to make of it what they will. This freedom and flexability of choices is really what facinates me more than anything else about this classic. The rules are simple to understand, but the interactions they produce are sometimes exceedingly complex. I love how there are almost always at least two ways to get something done, and players rarely feel that they have no real options on the board. Plus, the Knizia trick of encouraging balanced play really fits so well here. Some criticize the luck factor in tile pulls, but I just think that it encourages both more planning (to protect against the ravages that randomness can generate) and more flexability (in responding to what eventualities the game throws at players) in game play.
And finally… my Favorite Game of the Year…
The Princes of Florence – PoF is a work of pure genius. In every detail of the game, you can see how diligent its designers were in trying to achieve a balance and economy in all areas: money, resources, space, and time. The game requires advanced planning, but also forces a series of difficult decisions every single turn. Every piece of this game fits together like a puzzle, and the result is my favorite board game of all time. I can’t say enough good stuff about this game (although I tried in my review of it), and I would play it any time.
Well, there you have it. That’s my final answer after a year of being immersed in this wonderful boardgaming hobby. Of course, I’m not going anywhere now, and I hope to be around for a long time to give reports and reviews like this. Come back and join me any time!