So, earlier in the week, Tom Rosen wrote a nice piece on why he was disappointed with the game releases in 2011 thus far. While Tom and I share some similar likes and dislikes in games, it’s clear (to me, at least!) that we differ very much in our feeling on the releases of the current year thus far.
Now, I don’t keep great records of what I play anymore – having given that up a few years ago, so I don’t know exactly how many “new” games I’ve played thus far. But, I would have to say that I don’t have as many disappointments as Tom does. Maybe I’m just a glass half full kinda guy, or maybe I just prefer to look at the bright side of life… who knows… But, thus far, I have at least 12 games from 2011 which I would rate at least “I Like It” on the Opinionated Gamers scale. Now, does that mean that all of these games will end up being “keepers”? Most certainly not. But just because a game isn’t good enough to make it into the collection on a permanent basis doesn’t preclude it from being fun and enjoyable either…
The games I love or like thus far:
Strasbourg – I simply don’t understand the lack of love for this one. I’ve played it three times now, and at this point, it is my favorite new game of 2011 (followed closely by Burgund and Monte Cristo). I don’t see the arguments that this is a blind bidding game – in fact, the intricacies of the bidding round are what make the game for me. I like the mental challenge of trying to guess what bids I might need in the coming round, and then I set my cards up correspondingly. Then, during the round, I’m always assessing what I need and what I think my opponents need to help me decide what bid I should eventually make. I’m not sure the game is perfect… I still need to play a few more times before I can make a final verdict on the bonus cards – but overall, it’s a tight game that fits into the 60 minute window. (Full review coming to the OG once I play in a few more times)
Cargo Noir – Now, I realize that this is a game that has not been received well by veteran gamers, but I have definitely enjoyed this one with my family and children. It’s a nice auction game that can easily be picked up by even the most newbie of gamer.
Die Burgun von Burgund – The new Alea game is a wonderful tactical game. After about 10 plays, I’ll have to admit that I actually like the basic setup better, where all players start with an identical map, as opposed to the “advanced” version where each player has a different starting setup. I like the identical starting setups better because there is automatic competition for the tiles as everyone has the same needs from the start. My love for this one might be a bit higher than others due to the fast pace of my game group – we can get a game of this done in around 45 minutes. I have heard stories where Burgund takes 90 to 120 minutes, and at that length, it might certainly wear out its welcome.
Pergamon – This was one the games that I thought might have a chance for Spiel des Jahres. The artwork is pretty good (other than the confusing choice in art layout for the urns), and the game plays in 30-40 minutes. I actually like the guessing / push your luck mechanic surrounding the bidding in this game. The variance of the cards leads to some huge swings of fortune in the game, but in a short game, I think that helps keep it exciting… as well as keeping everyone in the game.
Secret of Monte Cristo – My other game that I thought had a good chance for SdJ. I love the action selection mechanic here with the marbles and the slide. In fact, I felt the visual impact of this gizmo would be enough to catch the eye of both the game purchaser as well as the SdJ jury member. Each of the different actions gives the active player a significant advantage, and the crux of the game is figuring out (a few turns in advance) when you want to be the active play to best influence the course of the game. (Full review coming soon to the OG)
Avanti – the new race game from Zoch. While there are plenty of times that I feel this game goes on for one round too many, it’s still a enjoyable light racing game. There are interesting decisions to be made in each heat, even surrounding when you might want to just drop out of a particular race. (Full review coming soon from John Palagyi)
Uluru – I love this puzzle game! Clearly games like this are polarizing, and I think like Ubongo – people will either love this or hate it. For me, this is better than most other puzzle games because raw speed isn’t the overall determining point. While there is a time to work out the relationships of the birds, everyone has the same time limit, and there’s not really a benefit to finishing first (assuming everyone finishes before the timer expires).
Airlines: Europe – Currently my favorite of this family of games… taking the crown from Union Pacific. I like the fact that it’s easier to figure out what shares are worth (as the values are printed on the board). I also like the simplification of the gameplay by removing the need for track-type cards. Finally, the fact that there is only one set of rules (so far) push this one over the edge.
Pantheon – the new Hans im Gluck game which has been pooh-poohed for its high amount of luck/variance. However, I actually like this element in the game as it forces you to adapt your play to the tiles which are flipped up.
Yomi – a neat 2-player hand management game which expands on the Rock-Paper-Scissors mechanism. At first blush, I wasn’t overly interested in this one as it seemed derivative, but as I continued to play it, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth that Yomi had to offer. The ten decks each offer unique abilities and each needs to played differently to use the cards to best effect. (Full review coming soon from a guest star writer)
Pastiche – one of the many games in the past year to use the art theme. Stripping away that theme, this is essentially a set collection game where you try to collect cards, representing colors of paint, in order to paint some classic masterpieces. I don’t know if I’ll be playing this one ten years from now, but I’ve played it over a dozen times with my kids (who love it) – and that’s a fact that isn’t said about many games in my collection, whether they were released in 2011 or 2001!
Tanto Cuore – not sure if this really counts, but the English Language version was just released last month by Cardhaus/Japanime Games. I really like this deckbuilder, and a full review is coming soon from me… The game can tersely be described as: Dominion meets anime maids.
This isn’t to say that I’ve liked everything that I’ve tried, and you can look at my Gathering of Friends recap to see my comments on some of those games. There are a bunch of games that I’m neutral about or were not for me. But… I’m trying to focus on the positives today! And, while most of the Essen games are still far on the horizon, there are already a number of games that I’m looking forward to trying in the rest of 2011.
Lancaster – appears to be an interesting take on the worker placement genre (with a little bit of area control thrown in the mix). Also, it got a nod for nomination for the Kennerspiel, so I’m keen to see what Queen has in this box…
Paris Connection – SNCF with the high-quality Queen components. Nuff said.
Battleship: Galaxies – new release from Hasbro in the coming weeks. It is supposed to be the flagship release of their new advanced strategy line. From what I’ve read online, it is mostly 2-player, though there are supposed to be some 4-player scenarios being considered. Outer space based strategy game that uses some cards to mix things up. The miniature ships look cool in the few pictures I’ve been able to find online.
Last Will – new game from Vladamir Suchy from CGE. Theme is: Brewster’s Millions, the boardgame. Still some tweaking to be done on this one, but I very much liked the version that I ran across
Robinson – the awesome solo card game from Friedemann Friese. Not sure when this is coming out as it’s the new Friday project game. But I’m awaiting this one anxiously.
Crappy Birthday – tried this out in near final form at the Gathering. A cute little party game in the Apples to Apples vein. My kids and their friends will almost certainly like it.
Ora et Labora – From the BGG game page: “Ora et Labora will be Uwe Rosenberg’s 5th “big” game. It’s based mechanically on Le Havre and set in the Medievals. Each player is head of a Monestary that gains land and constructs buildings, little enterprises that will gain resources and profit. The goal of each player is to build-up a working infrastructure and manufacture prestigious items, like books, ceramics, ornaments and relics to gain the most victory points at the end of the game.”
Quarriors – a deck building game that uses dice. Just writing this reminds me that I should try to get in contact with Mike Elliott (one of the designers) to get more info about this one
Olympos – Ystari’s new game from Phillip Keyaerts. Another attempt at a civilization game that plays in 90 minutes (instead of 8 hours). I missed my chance to play this at the Gathering, but most of the people I know that had a chance to try it had positive things to say about it.
Eclipse – A new game from Finland hopefully making it to Essen… It’s a science-fiction themed resource management game. The buzz I heard about it at Essen 2010 got me interested, and I’m waiting for more info to be released about it.
Montage – FRED/Gryphon are planning a reprint of this excellent word game from Kansil.
It’s currently on Kickstarter right now as the company is trying to gauge interest in the game… It apparently has already found enough folks on Kickstarter, and they are shooting for an August release! (HT: Lee Fisher)
Urban Sprawl – The new urban planning game from Chad Jensen. While Dominant Species wasn’t exactly for me, the theme of Urban Sprawl has really caught my eye. I’m interested to see if the Action Point system here will work without the game slowing to a grind. Rules have just been posted, and they look good so far!
So, in my estimation, 2011 is shaping up to be a fine year indeed. I’m always looking for the next great game (being a card-carrying member of the Cult of the New), and that’s what keeps me playing the newest games as they come out. Sure, I end up playing a few games that aren’t so great, but the excitement of the hunt keeps me coming back for more. I think there have already been many games in 2011 that I have enjoyed, and there are definitely many more that I’m looking forward to exploring in the rest of the year.