It’s that time of year for a look back at the past twelve months of gaming. Last year I wrote up a 2012 retrospective that discussed my most played games of the year and in previous years I’ve made charts and lists galore. This year I’d like to tell you what I played and, more importantly, why. I’ll try to explain why certain games saw so much table time and what I enjoyed about them that kept me coming back for more. Overall, I got in 1065 plays of 301 different games in 2013, but here I’ll focus on the games that were worth playing repeatedly. We’ll start with the games that saw 25 or more plays, followed by those with 10 or more plays, and end with the ones that got played at least 5 times.
a) Android: Netrunner
Netrunner got played 219 times in 2013, a record for any game that I’ve played since I started keeping track in 2005. Admittedly it only takes an average of about 30 minutes to play and I usually play several times in a row, but that’s still over 100 hours of Netrunner, which means around 2 hours per week.
If you’re interested in Netrunner or my experiences with the game, I’d suggest checking out my Netrunner Diaries post from August in which I detail my evolving thoughts on the game. What’s kept me coming back for more over and over again is actually the same thing that kept me away initially from this and other “Living Card Games.” The idea of monthly expansions is daunting and sounds like work to keep up with, but it makes for a game that evolves over time and constantly remains fresh. The game itself actually gets better as time goes on because the card pool grows and the hidden information is more varied and less predictable. The base set got stale pretty quickly, but each new card adds a multitude of possible interactions at this point and opens up immense possibilities.
Netrunner was my most played game in 2012 and now in 2013 too, and I don’t see any reason why it won’t also be for 2014, but only time will tell.
b) One Night Ultimate Werewolf
I only got this game in November, but already played it 58 times in a few short weeks. It was a hit at BGG.CON; it was a hit with family at Thanksgiving; and it was a hit over Christmas. The game just begs to be played repeatedly and is wonderfully paired with a smartphone app that handles the moderation. Of course, with a game that only takes about 5 minutes to play, 58 plays isn’t all that much, but in less than two months of the year, that’s impressive.
I really do think this game is a huge improvement over traditional Werewolf because it’s faster, removes the player elimination, removes the need for a moderator, and makes it easier to have no boring villager roles. At first some people think that the game is either too chaotic and random, so impossible for the villagers, or that it’s too easy to figure everything out, so impossible for the werewolves. But I think it just takes a few plays for most people to see that the game is actually a wonderful blend of chaos and predictability, with everything being available to figure out but the werewolves sowing doubt and confusion if they do it right. It’s also great fun to tinker with the role combinations over a series of games. Many people that I’ve taught this to have quickly asked how to get a copy for themselves, which is probably about the best testament you can hope for.
c) Star Wars: The Card Game
My descent into “living card game” madness has really taken hold since I’ve played Star Wars 35 times this year and bought everything from the first year to catch up on past expansions. It’s really a fantastic game though. I resisted at first because getting into another card game like this seemed like too much of a temporal and financial investment. After the first friend taught it to me, I thought that was great and all, but I just can’t do another LCG. But after the third different friend expressed interest in getting the game and having someone to play it with, I finally caved… and am really glad I did.
It’s such a remarkably different card game from Netrunner and yet similarly around 30 minutes and asymmetric. The play of units, enhancements, and events will be more familiar to Magic players of yore, but the split goals of aggressively destroying objectives and running out the clock put the players in very different starting positions. The combat is also extremely interesting, unpredictable, fickle, and fascinating. I love to try to figure out which units to attack with, which units to block with, and what might come of any given battle. But there are so many ways it can play out and so many possibilities that it’s a real challenge to figure out. A challenge I enjoy bashing my head against over and over clearly. Combine all this with an innovative deck creation method plus great fun thematic clashes and you’ve got yourself a really good game. I never would have thought it possible with a licensed title like this.
Carl Chudyk’s Innovation is one of those polarizing titles that people usually either love or hate, but you can count me squarely in the love column. I was taught it by a fan of the game, which helped me appreciate the game’s quirks. I have also played it exclusively two-player. I played Innovation 19 times last year and 49 times total since picking it up belatedly in 2012. I haven’t played this thirty-minute card game quite as much since diving head over heels into Netrunner and Star Wars, but I still enjoy it plenty and would almost never turn down a game. I love civilization games and this is such a different and quick take on the concept that I can’t help but enjoy progressing speedily from metalworking and mapmaking to electricity and beyond. It’s got a lot of wild swings in quick time frame, but that can be fun if you let go and embrace them.
Coup is probably my favorite hidden roles game and I was happy to get in 16 plays last year. I enjoy One Night Ultimate Werewolf a lot and The Resistance even more, but Coup is just such a fun experience that it’s almost always my first suggestion when contemplating such a game. The ability to pretend you have any role and dare opponents to challenge you makes for fantastic faceoffs and serious tension in this game of 10 minutes or less. Yes it can be arbitrary and there are sometimes awkward situations as people accumulate coins and have to pick a target, but it’s so fast that I don’t really mind being eliminated in the first 30 seconds when I doubt someone’s Assassin or they guess that I don’t really have the Contessa. I just love when people realize I’ve claimed and gotten away with four different roles in the past few turns despite only have two and not having switched. There’s just about no better feeling in gaming.
c) War of the Ring
And now for something completely different. Up until this point in the list it’s been all short card games, but here’s the first epic game and a great one at that. I got to play War of the Ring 15 times in the past year and loved every minute of it. At about 3 hours per play that’s more play time than any other game on this list except Netrunner. I’ve gotten to play War of the Ring 39 times over the past few years and it’s ascended into my top pantheon of two-player epics, which includes such luminaries as Through the Ages, Antiquity, and Twilight Struggle. I think those four games on a desert island would probably be plenty.
This year I got to play the War of the Ring deluxe edition with a friend on a Geek Chic table at BGG.CON, which was just about the most luxurious and opulent experience in gaming I could think of. I’m just fine with the regular War of the Ring edition at home though and boring, old table because the game is great without really needing any bells and whistles. Although I am very glad I painted the bases of the miniatures in the game because it greatly helps differentiate the 8 nations and is particularly useful when teaching the game. I’ve taught the game countless times now and have finally got it down to a good rhythm where I think I can get all the minutiae in without bogging down for too long at the start. And yes, the game can come down to a single tile draw with Frodo at the edge of Mount Doom after hours of playing, but somehow that’s just a wonderful part of the epic narrative rather than an utterly random and frustrating result, go figure.
Crokinole is back on the list after sadly missing out last year. I got to play it 12 times, bringing my total up to 203 since getting a Hilinski board in late 2006. It’s been a frequent resident of these lists, in part because it’s a great two-player and four-player game, plus it’s a wonderful blend of dexterity and strategy. I’m almost always happy to take it down off the wall for a quick match of finger-flicking goodness.
e) Noir: Killer vs. Inspector
This little game was a free giveaway at BGG.CON and is actually a really good game. I played it 12 times in 2013 and have really enjoyed it as a Mr. Jack style card game. It’s fun to play as both the inspector trying to track down the killer or as the killer evading capture. The game only takes 5-10 minutes to play, but usually you’ll want to switch sides and play again. There are also three different rulesets to use with varying degrees of complexity and randomness, so plenty to explore and revisit. I’ve found free giveaway games are often free for a reason and not so good, but this one has been a very pleasant surprise and is one I’m glad to have accidentally discovered.
f) Sentinels of the Multiverse
The first, and perhaps only, game on the list that I don’t particularly like. I was very surprised to discover that I’d played Sentinels of the Multiverse 12 times in 2013. I usually love cooperative games like Ghost Stories, Pandemic, and Red November, but this cooperative game felt very dry and boring to me. I clearly gave it a decent chance and then some with 12 plays, but am glad to have sold it so it can move on to a better home. The art and theme were great fun with interesting homebrew superheroes, but the gameplay felt like play a card that does X damage, use a card that does Y damage, draw a card, rinse and repeat. I know card combinations were possible and epic battles with supervillains were supposed to distract me from all the arithmetic, but it just didn’t work for me. Clearly there are many fans given all the expansions and the Kickstarter success, so there’s something here worth exploring. But I’m done exploring it now and ready to go back to Ghost Stories and Pandemic for my cooperative gaming, not to mention the Wok Star reprint when that comes out later this year.
g) The Convoy
Ignacy Trzewiczek’s The Convoy was a pleasure to explore with 10 plays over the past year. Many of those plays were in a single week when I played it almost every day for a week straight. Clearly I like asymmetric two-player card games like Netrunner, Star Wars, Noir, and The Convoy. The decisions in The Convoy about where and when to fight or flee are challenging. You really have to pick your battles if you want to use your limited resources effectively, so it makes for an interesting challenge in a 30-minute game.
The one concern I had was with the balance and whether it was much easier to win with one side than the other, but Ignacy has provided assurances on BGG that I’m wrong and I’m willing to take his word for now given my limited experience with the game. I’m sad I couldn’t make it to Gencon though, where he promised to beat me with the faction I thought was weaker because that would have been a treat. Honestly though I don’t mind if the game were not 100% balanced. I love Twilight Struggle, Mr. Jack, Summoner Wars, and War of the Ring, all of which may have imbalances of 60-40 in favor of one side over the other. Maybe The Convoy really is 50-50, but regardless, it’s a fun game and one I’d heartily recommend. You just have to get past the icon overload that’s reminiscent of 51st State and the unfortunate lack of a player aid in the box.
h) Panic Lab
I’m a sucker for speed puzzle games like Geistesblitz, Uluru, and Pick-a-Pig, so it’s no surprise that I greatly enjoyed Panic Lab when a friend thrust it into my hands last April, saying I had to try it. I’ve played it 10 times since then and tried to introduce it to as many different people as I can. It comes in a great little tin, has fantastic art, and is a blast to play.
You set up a ring of amoeba tiles of various shapes and colors, then roll a set of dice that ultimately identify a single tile in the ring. All players race to find the right amoeba to earn a point. It’s got the advantage of everyone always playing, like Ricochet Robots from days of yore, although it’s not a game for everyone since the slower players may find themselves essentially sitting and watching the others rack up the points.
Lastly on the dimes list is Timeline with 10 plays. I picked up Timeline: Inventions on a whim and it was a surprisingly big hit with family, so I picked up a few more games in the Timeline series for greater card variety. It’s a clever educational game packaged as a fun experience. Trying to fit various disparate events, discoveries, and inventions into a growing historical timeline is an amusing challenge and one that seems to go over remarkably well with non-gamers.
Alright, I’ve covered my twelve most played games from 2013 so let’s pick up the pace for the rest of the games and cover them in just a few remaining groups.
- 9 plays: Pick-a-Pig and Summoner Wars
Here we’ve got yet another speed puzzle game and another asymmetric, 30-minute, two-player game. Pick-a-Pig is another cute speed puzzle game in the same vein as Panic Lab, Geistesblitz, and the like. It’s best when combined with Pick-a-Dog for extreme silliness and puzzle goodness. Summoner Wars has showed up on this list in past years and will likely continue to show up in the years to come. There are so many possible faction match ups at this point that the replayability is truly immense. The iOS app is great, although experiencing significant issues since the release of iOS 7, but these are all in-person plays with the physical copy, which I prefer whenever possible.
- 8 plays: Ginkgopolis, Mice & Mystics, and Myrmes
Coincidentally, here are three of my four favorite games from 2012. The only one missing is my favorite, Keyflower, which unfortunately only saw 4 plays last year. Ginkgopolis has held up the best over time of these three, despite the release of a recent expansion that I’d rather not play with. I was skeptical of Ginkgopolis at first with its seemingly pasted on theme and seeming chaos of hand passing and tile overbuilding, but it all comes together and works somehow. The different ways to score are nicely balanced and the gameplay moves along at a good pace, ending at the right time and leaving you wanting just a bit more.
Mice & Mystics was fun to play through the campaign with a group of friends, but really felt like a Descent Lite, so now I’m happy to be playing Descent: Road to Legend instead. The repetition of monsters and the lack of much hero improvement began to bother me by the end of Mice & Mystics, so it’s on the block to be sold now for another group to enjoy the campaign and wonderful artwork.
- 7 plays: Clash of Cultures, Neuroshima Hex, and The Resistance
What a diverse crop of games here, with an epic civilization game, an asymmetric battle game, and a bluffing game of hidden roles. I’ve already reviewed Clash of Cultures, explaining all the ways in which I think it’s both better and worse than the civ games that have come before. I’m not sure how much play it will see this year though now that it also has to contend with the recent releases of both Patchistory and Nations.
I love Neuroshima Hex and all its wonderfully diverse army expansions, plus the very slick iOS app. It reminds me a lot of Summoner Wars and they’re both games that I find myself wanting to play over and over so I can try them with this faction or that faction, and try out this match up or that match up. And then there’s The Resistance, an improved version of Werewolf that gives players something tangible to debate, and is now even better with the addition of the Merlin and Assassin role cards that came with the Coup Kickstarter.
- 6 plays: Biblios and Kemet
Biblios is a supremely clever two-player card game that I’ve played 30 times now and Kemet is a beautifully produced Matagot game that I’ve written about at various points before. It’s a fun game of combat where you can buy special powers, earn points in a variety of ways, and march around a somewhat odd game board. It’s a bit reminiscent of Nexus Ops, which I need to get back to the table more, in that it’s a game of fast and furious combat that nicely encourages and rewards attacking rather than being too defensive.
- 5 plays: Eight-Minute Empire, God’s Playground, La Boca, Qin, Roma, Star Wars: Angriff der Klonkrieger, Tigris & Euphrates, and Yunnan
The last batch of games are ones that I played 5 times in the past year. These range from fast little games like Eight-Minute Empire, La Boca, Qin, and Roma, to middle-weight games like Star Wars: Angriff der Klonkrieger, Tigris & Euphrates, and Yunnan, all the way to the more epic game covering 400 years of miserable Polish history in God’s Playground. That’s really one of Wallace’s quirky masterpieces! I recommend the Star Wars game as a fun cooperative experience and Yunnan as one of the best new games.
A bunch of old and new favorites just missed the cut with 4 plays each, including Eclipse, Keyflower, Nations, Stephensons Rocket, Through the Ages, and Twilight Struggle. All great games and ones I hope to get to the table even more in 2014.
Now that 2013 is over though it’s time to look ahead to 2014, including more Netrunner expansions, the Wok Star reprint, hopefully whatever Vlaada Chvatil is working on, and most of all, SeaFall. SeaFall! Check out this video of Rob Daviau talking about his design process and tell me you’re not excited about SeaFall. I’m hopeful that 2014 will be the year of SeaFall. So what did you play most in 2013 and what game are you most excited about for 2014, besides SeaFall of course.