2011 Year in Review


Time really flies.  I can remember back in 3rd grade or so trying to calculate how old I’d be in the year 2000 and thinking that I’d be sooo old (25/26, by the way).  But now it’s freaking 12 years after Y2K and I still don’t feel all that old yet.  But maybe part of the reason I still feel pretty young at heart is my passion for games and realizing the importance both of having fun and challenging my mind with them.

So, as I’ve done for the last 4 years, come with me as I look back at the previous year, review what and how much I’ve played, and then give some attention to some of the games that have really stood out for me.  

It’s always debatable how “good” a year is for boardgaming, but I think that most would agree that 2011 was at least “above average”.  If you’ve seen my Top 100 Games, you’ll see that a number of new games made their way onto it, and a couple even landed in my top 10.  But I’ll get to that kind of specifics a little later on.  For now, let’s talk about…        

Quantity
 





















Dimes

Plays
Lord of the Rings LCG21
Carnival15
Letters from Whitechapel11
Ascension10
Puerto Rico10



After 2011 was all said and done, I got in a total of 401 plays of 131 different games last year.  That’s down a little bit from 2010 (435 plays of 147 different games), but still pretty respectable.  The biggest reason for the slight decline is probably that Gwen and I have had less time lately for our “couple time” gaming now that we have two fully armed and operational little girls running around the house.  

Most of my plays are obviously as part of the Hypermind Boardgamers.  Specifically, the Game of the Month! tends to drive a number of my plays, and I usually at least get in 3-4 plays in its spotlight month.  Specifically, here are my plays for our 2011 GotM!‘s: 7 Wonders (Jan) – 4, Factory Fun (Feb) – 3, Fresco (Mar) – 4, Puerto Rico (Apr) – 10, London (May) – 0Alien Frontiers (Jun) – 8, Lord of the Rings LCG (Jul) – 21, Lost Worlds (Aug) – 8, Troyes (Sep) – 3, Letters from Whitechapel (Oct) – 11, Homesteaders (Nov) – 3, Catacombs (Dec) – 6.  Yes, that’s 0 plays of London.  I’m not sure exactly sure how that happened, but mostly it has to do with the group playing it early on in the evening (before my 8pm arrival time).

Probably the biggest game absent from my Dime list is Pandemic.  After leading my plays for the last 3 years (with 50, 27, and 32 plays in 2008-2010), it dropped to a measely 7 plays in 2011.  Pandemic has always been a big game with Gwen and I, but it got a lot less play with us as well both because of our dwindling alone time and due to another new game that came on the scene with us, Carnival.  Taking the second-most played spot on my list last year, Carnival continues to be a favorite for us.  All but one play was with my playtest copy, but now that the real thing is released, I’m sure that it will be back on my most-played list in 2012. 

Other “couple” games that Gwen and I played a lot in 2012 include 7 ate 9, Run Wild, Samurai, Ricochet Robots, and Tobago.  My most-played children’s game with Samantha was still Go Away Monster!, but I also got in a number of plays of Candy Land Castle and Take the Cake as well.

Just for the sake of completeness, my entire list of nickels was: Shake ‘n Take (9), 7 Ate 9 (8), Alien Frontiers (8), Eminent Domain (8), Lost Worlds (8), Go Away Monster! (7), Pandemic (7), White Elephant (7), Zulus on the Ramparts! (7), Catacombs (6), Flash Point: Fire Rescue (6), No Thanks! (6), Run Wild (6), Samurai (6), Unpublished Prototype (all Acute Care I believe) (6), Animal Upon Animal: Balancing Bridge (5), Candy Land Castle (5), Chronicle (5), Elder Sign (5), Jenga (5), Ricochet Robots (5), The Speicherstadt (5), Timeline: Inventions (5), and Tobago (5).

Anf finally, I want to note that I played 59 “new” (to me, at least) games in 2011.

Quality

Before I get started with my favorite games from the past year, let me be clear about which games were eligible for consideration.  This is intended to be a list of “new” games, basically that came out in 2011.  However, I am totally unconcerned with the “official” release date of a game, particularly when that tied to a foreign-language release or even just wasn’t widely available in the United States at that time.  So there definitely are some 2010 games listed below, and I will certainly reserve some games just released for next year’s list (like Belfort, Kingdom of Solomon, and a few others I just got for Christmas).

But enough of the disclaimer and on with the awards!   

Biggest Surprise

The Speicherstadt
– I figured that I’d like The Speicherstadt (it’s designed by Stefan Feld, you know), but from my very first play, I was blown away by how deep and interesting it is for being such a simple game to learn and play.  Its auction/bidding system is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and the decisions it provides regardless of how much money you have is really pretty astounding.  I hold out hope that it will be Game of the Month! sometime in 2012 so that I can explore it even further.   

Also considered:
Elder Sign, Shake ‘n Take

Biggest Disappointment

Defenders of the Realm
  – I really wanted to like this game.  In fact, I was so sure I would love it that I bought it and a copy of the Barbarian expansion sight unseen.  And since some of the General minis were so ugly, I even dug through my collection of D&D Minis and replaced them with painted ones to make the experience even better.  I mean, it’s cooperative, it’s freaking based on Pandemic, and it’s got a fantasy theme… what’s not to like?



Not even cool monsters could save this game…

Well, mostly, I don’t like it because it takes some elements from Pandemic, but then ruins them with unnecessary randomness while not bringing the coolest thing mechanic (the epidemic/reshuffle and put back on top of the deck thing) at all.  I’m actually pretty cool with the whole “roll dice to eliminate minions” part of the game, which I thought was pretty reasonable.  But the total random screwage of facing a General and rolling like crap despite having a ton of cards for them, which pretty much ruins your 90-120 minute game, by the way, is thoroughly annoying.  

I can’t think of any possible reason that I wouldn’t just play 2-3 games of Pandemic (or Flash Point: Fire Rescue or Ghost Stories or Sentinels of the Multiverse or pretty much any other coop game that I do like) in the same amount of time.    

Also considered:
Airlines Europe, Sumo Ham Slam

Favorite Filler 

Chronicle
– I have a long history with trick-taking games (mostly playing Rook through all my childhood and youth), and Chronicle does trick-taking in such a cool and interesting way.  The elements of having variable scoring goals, additional “powers” on each card, and a number of other little tidbits here and there make it a fantastic and quick filler game.

Also considered: 7 Wonders, Rattus
 
Favorite Party Game

Timeline: Inventions
  –  I just picked this up right before Chrsitmas, and it’s already one of my favorite games to introduce to non-gamers.  It’s so simple; you just put the inventions in front of you into the growing timeline in the middle of the table.  It probably works better with people of average historical knowledge, but it’s also been a hit with history buffs (who usually win) and the totally clueless (who usually provide some very entertaining mistakes) as well.  I’m already looking forward to picking up the other Timeline games to add to my card mix as they become available.   

Also considered: Shake ‘n Take, White Elephant

Favorite Children’s Game

Take the Cake
–  It’s about freaking cupcakes.  ‘Nuff said… Oh, except for my full review, of course.
 
Also considered: Angry Birds: Knock on Wood, Animal Upon Animal: Balancing Bridge
 
Favorite Family Game

Carnival – I playtested it and know the designer and publisher, but it’s still honestly a really cool game.  I’ve written a full review of this as well, but all I’ll add is that Gwen and I still love to play it, the brand-spankin’-new production version looks incredible, and that the little Sideshow expansion carries a variant named after me!

Also considered: Fresco, Kingdom Builder

Most Thematic Game


Sentinels of the Multiverse – I’ve only played Sentinels once, and I totally reserve the right to mention it again next year in another category, but even with just one experience with it under my belt, I can see that it just drips theme from every pore.  From the artwork to the hero and villian concepts to the environments and, most importantly, to how each hero deck plays out differently, it just gets the whole superhero thing right.  Almost regardless of how “good” the game itself is (and I do hope that it’s as good as many others have said), I want to play it a lot more mostly just to experience the unique hero decks and see the theme at work.

Also considered:
Flash Point: Fire Rescue, Star Trek: Expeditions, Lord of the Rings LCG

Best “Older” Game of the Year
  
Puerto Rico – I had even played Puerto Rico a time or two before, but it wasn’t until this year that I really came to appreciate how incredible it really is.  I’ve already written my review of it, and considering that I now rank it as my second-favorite game of all time, there’s probably not much else I need to say about it.

Also considered: Lost Worlds/Ace of Aces


Favorite Games of the Year

So here they are, my favorite games of 2011:

5) The Speicherstadt – This was a hard spot to fill (Carnival almost took this spot), but in the end, this list is really more about gamer’s games, and the Speicherstadt is just too good for me to ignore.   

4) Alien Frontiers – This is the original Kickstarter phenomenon, but I didn’t manage to get on board with it until its 2nd printing earlier this year.  It’s a great dice-placement game with a lot of interaction and, as I’ve said before, a lot of room for pulling off cool shenanigans from card and power combinations.  I liked this from my first play, but I think it actually gets better as you learn more of these combos and get your head around strategy.   

3) Eminent Domain – As I said in my review, this is a really cool “deck learning” game that turns traditional deckbuilding on its head by introducing a Puerto-Rico-like role selection mechanic.  I sincerely hope to get a lot more chances to play this in 2012. 

2) Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – At one point, this was probably my odds-on favorite for my Game of the Year.  It combines my long history with CCG’s and my new love of cooperative games into a great Lord-of-the-Rings-themed package, and I just love it!  If the first cycle of expansions had been more consistent and interesting, it might still have the spot, but my excitement has definitely waned a little in the last few months.  Still, I’m hoping that FFG has learned more of what the game needs and will make the next cycle and stand-alone expansions even better.  And again, you can check out my review of the base game for more information. 

Leaving only my Favorite Game of 2011, which is…
 
Letters from Whitechapel – Like I said on the night I decided to raise my rating for Letters from Whitechapel to a 10, “what else could I expect from a game like this?”  I asked for it because I thought it would be similar to Fury of Dracula, but was then totally blown away by how clean and tight it is, and how consistently it delivers a tense and thrilling chase experience.  I’ve gushed on and on about it in my full review, but I feel compelled to reiterate just how exciting it is to play, and how universally loved it is in my game group.  It’s roughly a 2ish hour game, but we’ve had many nights with games played back-to-back or 2 games going at once.  And the cool thing is that we’re still interested in it and want to find time to try out some of the variants included with the game and from online.  Unfortunately, it’s out of print right now, but Sir Chester Cobblepot is working on a reprint for publication some time this year.



So, that’s my opinion, but what do y’all think?  Was 2011 a good year for boardgaming?  What would be on your top 5 list?

You can also check out the tags below for more about each game mentioned here, and you can take a look at my previous Year in Review articles as well: 2010, 2009, 20082007

5 Comments


  1. Great writeup Chris. Letters from Whitechapel and The Speicherstadt are both at the top of my Must Play List. Factory fun is another I keep hearing about and is going on my list of Must Play’s

    I may have to give it another look but I really didn’t like Eminent Domain. It felt like a less interesting version of Race for the Galaxy of which I think is good but not great.

    How was Troyes? A friend of mine just got that game for Christmas but we haven’t played it yet.

    I should have an update on my Blog soon…been working on a big update. =)


  2. I like your list, Chris. A couple of comments (can’t remember if I made the same comments when you posted about these before):

    I really like The Speicherstadt as well. One thing that concerns me is that you always play through the same deck every game. With very few exceptions (depending on the number of players in the game), there are always the same firefighters, the same contracts, the same buildings… My fear is that it will lose replayability sometime in the next five sessions. But so far it hasn’t disappointed. I do love the auction mechanic and the scarcity of money. My wife and I have taken to second-guessing each other, trying to decide whether to bid high or hold back and have more cash for the next round.

    Every time I play Puerto Rico, I’m convinced that it’s one of the most brilliantly designed games of all. We just had a very exciting five-player session on New Years Day in which I barely beat my wife by shipping tons of corn and tobacco, despite her aggressive building strategy. Love that game.

    Based on your “couple” games, I just put Samurai on my list of games to consider.


  3. @Eric: My wife gave me Troyes for Christmas, and we are in the process of learning it. We only got through two rounds before having to put it away, but I think it’s going to end up one of our favorite “deeper” Euros.


  4. This is a good, fun list Chris.
    I agree with your picks for the most part. I haven’t played Speicherstadt in person yet but like Feld’s games. Excellent top 5!

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