2008 was another great gaming year for me. Despite having my gaming time reduced by the birth of my amazing little girl, I still managed to record 403 plays of 138 different games (down from 647 plays of 143 games last year). The Hypermind BoardGamers are still going strong, and we just celebrated our 2-year anniversary! Plus, this site is approaching its second anniversary as well. So, here I go with a rundown of the games that made the biggest impact on me over the last year.
By a large margin, my most-played game of 2008 was Pandemic. If you follow the site, that’s probably not any big surprise, but I just can’t say enough good things about this revolutionary cooperative game. In total, I got in 50 plays, not including solo games. While I don’t have the exact breakdown, that was pretty evenly split between game night (where it was the Game of the Month! for June) and home with Gwen. I’ll talk more about Pandemic later, though.
My other frequently played games tend to be more confined to either home or Hypermind, so let’s take a look at those which have showed up most at game night first. My second-most played game for the year is Race for the Galaxy, for which I had 30 plays. Compared to many of the other guys at game night, however, this number is actually a bit anemic. Over 100 games of RftG were played at game night in 2008, and some guys played in most of them. Anyway, it’s a great game that I still have a desire to get to the table even more in 2009.
Several of my “most-played” were Games of the Month! for the Hypermind BoardGamers, including Agricola (9 plays), Age of Gods (6 plays), Dominion (6 plays), Wits & Wagers (5 plays), Power Grid (4 plays), Settlers of Catan (4 plays), Zooloretto (3 plays), and China (3 plays). Others that I also played a lot there include Descent: Journeys in the Dark (5 plays, which all required saturday game days or were played at conventions), Tier auf Tier (9 plays) – a favorite filler, Ghost Stories (5 plays) which is my second-favorite coop game this year, Shadows Over Camelot (5 plays) which is a long-time favorite coop game, and Patrician (4 plays) which we think is also a really nice, solid filler game with a lot of strategy.
Other frequently-played games between Gwen and myself at home include If Wishes Were Fishes (9 plays), the 10 Days series (15 total plays), Qwirkle (6 plays), Cartagena (5 plays), and Ticket to Ride games (8 total plays). We also played a couple of games of 1960: The Making of the President while we were both out after Samantha was born, and I’d really like to find the time to get it to the table again.
Probably more important than raw plays to me is the experience and impression that a game leaves with me. As I did last year, I’m going to organize my thoughts into a few categories just to keep them somewhat organized.
Without question, this has got to be Power Grid. With its stellar rating on BGG and all the hordes of people that proclaim it as the Kwisatz Haderach of eurogames, I was fully prepared to add it to my top 10 list. I was so certain that I would like it that I even picked up the Benelux/France expansion board and second power plant deck before playing it for the first time. Then, to my surprise, I found that I quite disliked the game as I suffered through it all February long. I don’t need to rant on about it here, but you can check out my review of it here (or here, where it is my highest-thumbed review!).
Even though, because of its depth, I don’t usually think of this as a real filler, Race for the Galaxy has got to take this spot. On 40 of the 52 weeks in 2008, it made an appearance in our game group fulfilling one of the three typical “filler” spots (to start us off, fill in time, or end the night). In fact, it’s our most-played game ever, and it’s still going pretty strong. The only reason it doesn’t make a good filler is that it’s not really all that accessible for new people. In fact, the learning curve is steep enough that I don’t really have much desire to teach it to anyone anymore, but I still want to find more opportunities to play it with other experienced players.
Favorite Abstract Strategy Game
I haven’t really played all that many new abstracts this past year, so I’m going to cheat and give you my wife’s favorite one of the year, which would be Qwirkle. Personally, the game is a bit boring and a little too long for what it is, but it is quite enjoyable and is suprisingly intuitive, even for nongamers. Plus, the blocks are nice for babies to chew on…
Favorite Gateway Game
Most of the “gatew
ay” games that I’ve seen or used as such this past year were the standard, tried-and-true selections such as Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, and to a slightly lesser extent, Winner’s Circle and Wits & Wagers. Still, near the end of the year, I finally had the chance to see my winner in this category, which would be Wasabi!
Wasabi! is just so attractive in many ways, and its gameplay is both simple and intuitive. Despite having a distinct lack of sushi lovers in my circle of friends and relatives, the game has still gone over very well so far, and I forsee this getting a lot of play with the more casual gamers in my life.
Most Thematic Game
I really like theme and, more importantly, narrative in a game, and as I think back over 2008, two games really stand out in that regard. First, my three plays of War of the Ring have really left a great impression on me. The game does such a great job of incorporating all the history and politics of Middle Earth, and games often mirror the books rather closely.
And my other choice in this category is Descent: Journeys in the Dark. I had purposely avoided this game before this year, thinking that if I wanted to play something like this, I’d just find or make an opportunity to play Dungeons & Dragons. After playing, however, I see how completely different the two experienes really are. Ultimately, RPG’s are all about cooperative storytelling. While there may be a bit of adversarial tension between GM and players, the goal of both parties is to have a fun experience through building a good story, and a TPK (total party kill) is usually a failure for both sides. In Descent, however, the game is balanced to let the Overlord go after the players with no reservations. It’s all tactical miniatures combat with clearly defined powers and abilities on both sides of the table, and I really like the completely different feel and goal that it gives me as opposed to D&D. And sometime soon, I’d like to try out the Road to Legend expansion to see if “campaign” play might be able to fit its way into our weekly game nights.
Coolest Game Mechanics
Okay, here’s where I begin to get a bit repetitive. For me, Pandemic is just the best example of cool game mechanics from 2008. Specifically, the whole infection/epidemic mechanic (where infected cities are continually reshuffled and placed back on top of the deck) is just brilliant and serves to push tension through the roof. More than anything in particular, however, the real genius of Pandemic is in how Matt Leacock managed to refine the whole cooperative game concept. With its shorter play time and inherent replayability, it touched off an explosion of new coop games that appeal to a much broader range of gamers and non-gamers alike. And now in 2009, I can even look forward to a new expansion to give the game even more options!
Favorite Game of the Year
And now, let’s take a look at what I consider to be the best games of 2008. Unlike last year, I’m limiting this list to games that were actually published in English in 2008.
5. Tribune: Primus Inter Pares – I was very interested in this game since it topped the Fairplay list at Essen 2007, but didn’t actually see it in person until it came out in English just a few months ago. While I haven’t played it as much as I would like, I was very impressed by the diversity of choices and overall strategy involved in the game. It’s one of the few games in recent memory that would occupy my thoughts for the days and weeks after playing it, and with all the variability in paths to victory, I really hope that this hits the table several times in 2009.
4. Ghost Stories – As you have probably figured out, I’m a big fan of coop games. Ghost Stories is a vicious little game that has induced equal parts of excitement and frustration in me and several of my regular gaming partners. There are a lot more possible actions and interactions available than in Pandemic, but there’s also a heck of a lot more random chance (which usually takes the form of “random screwage” as the game kicks your butt). While my apppreciation for the game with multiple players is inching upwards, the reason that the game is in my top 5 is because it’s now my favorite solo game of all time. The game is a tough enough opponent to keep things exciting, but in the solo game you’re usually able to coordinate your actions well enough to minimize the randomness of the game and have a real shot at victory even at higher difficulty levels.
3. Race for the Galaxy – Althoug I haven’t been able to get into as many games as I’d like to recently, this brilliant engine-building card game consumed my and my game group’s attention for a good chunk of the year. It’s hard to even formulate specific reasons about why I like it so much, but I think that the thing I like most about Race is how you have to take your opening hand and homeworld and formulate a strategy to pursue. But then, you also have to remain flexible and responsive to the cards you see through the game to tailor and fine-tune your plan. It keeps you completely engaged and leaves you with a real sense of accomplishment, but does so in only a matter of 25-35 minutes. I just picked up Glory to Rome, and I can’t wait to see how it stacks up…
2. Agricola – I guess the only surprise about this game being on my list is that it’s not at the top. Agricola is a great game that lives up to all its hype. When it was Game of the Month! in my group, it wasn’t uncommon to see 3-4 games of it played in a single evening, which is just crazy for us given that it’s a 90-120 minute game! I’m not going to bother with any details here, but I’ll just say that it’s the most frustrating and laborious game that I absolutely love to play.
And finally… my Favorite Game of the 2008 is…
Pandemic! Again, no surprise here. Heck, it’s been my favorite game of 2008 since it came out in January! For all the reasons I’ve mentioned above and because it’s just simply a lot of fun to play, Pandemic is my second-favorite game of all time. It’s accessible to pretty much anyone, and it really requires a level of cooperation and teamwork that is far greater than most earlier coop games. I’m approaching 60 plays of it now, and I’m just as happy to pull it out and give it a run as I was after my first few plays. I take it to pretty much any gathering where I think gaming may occur, and I’ll teach it to anyone. If you haven’t already, you can check out my review of it here (or here) for more information.
And so, finally, I’ve managed to get my thoughts down about another great year in the boardgaming hobby. I so completely love these games, and can’t wait to try out another whole batch this year!