Notable Notables: 2009-2013

If you’ve been following the articles that Larry Levy and Tom Rosen post to OG, you know that we have very different opinions when it comes to games.  What you may not know is that we share some things in common:  a deep interest in the history of games; a fondness for big projects; and way too much time on our hands!

All of these led to us trying to answer the following question:  what were the most notable games of the year?  Not our favorites–everybody and his dog has a favorites list.  Rather, which are the games that will be best remembered from that year, that are acclaimed to be the best or the most buzzworthy?  So if you got a bunch of gamers of all stripes into a room and asked them which were the best games of the year, which ones would they collectively come up with?  And what games would they select from 10 or 20 years ago?

That’s still pretty vague, so we agreed on three criteria for selecting our most notables:

  • How well was the game received when it first came out?  Were lots of people playing it, lots of people loving it, lots of people giving it rave reviews?

  • How well did it do with the gaming awards?  We placed the biggest emphasis on the 3 major awards (SdJ, DSP, and IGA), but also considered awards like Fairplay’s a la carte award (best card game), Golden Geeks, Meeples Choice, Games Magazine, and Dice Tower.  Wins had the greatest weight, but nominations and top 10 finishes were considered as well.  We also gave some extra weight to games which have been selected for the Sumo/Counter Hall of Fame.

  • For the older games, how well has it held up over time?  Has the game’s reputation faded over the years or is it still well regarded?  Do people still play it with some frequency?

We then set the boundaries for the process.  We decided to use the gaming fiscal year, from July to June, for each set of picks, since that coincided with the period covered by the major awards.  We would list the five most notable games of each year, ordered from 1 to 5.  We tried to be inclusive of as many types of games as possible, but we acknowledge that since neither of us are wargamers and neither of us has kids, that wargames and children’s games will probably get less attention than they deserve.  Finally, we decided to do this for the last 20 years, taking us back to the 1993-94 period.  Not only is this a nice round number, but it’s a good starting point for modern gaming, as Magic: The Gathering first debuted during this timeframe.

We considered coming up with consensus picks, but we realized that our articles are at their most entertaining when our considerable differences are emphasized.  So we each came up with our own lists completely independently.  Neither of us knew what the other was selecting until after we wrote it down in our jointly composed article.  Just for fun, we added some global comments for the year and some of those mention what the other fellow had selected.  But what you’re seeing in these lists is unvarnished Tom and unaffected Larry, with each selection followed by a brief explanation of our reasoning (or lack thereof).  Occasionally, we even agree, which, given our different points of view, is probably a pretty strong testament for those games.  But we hope you like our varied approaches to the lists.

Doing the math, 20 years and two lists of 5 works out to 200 games and that’s a lot to take in for one article.  So we decided to split it up into five articles of four years apiece.  Hence, we declare this to be Notable Notables Week on the Opinionated Gamers site!  We’ll work our way backwards, so that the games that are probably most familiar to you will be presented first.  Today, we begin with the most recent full year, 2012-13, and go back to 2009-10.  But don’t let us have all the fun!  Please add your own comments about which games you think were the most notable for these four years.  If you think one of us has got it right, let us know, and if you think one is full of crap, tell us!  The best part about projects like this is arguing which person is right, so let your voice be heard and join in the discussion!

Okay, let’s get started with the first year.

2012-13

Tom’s Picks

1) Terra Mystica – This is the clear #1 for the year.

2) Tzolk’in – Those gears just totally captivated people.

3) Android: Netrunner – Number five on BGG and no signs of slowing down.

4) Love Letter – Broke through as the minimalist Japanese game to have.

5) Bora Bora – Yet another Feld hit.

Bonus Theme for the Year: Big new “lifestyle” games come out and are very well-received, including both Mage Wars and Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Games.  Keyflower is my personal favorite for the year, but I didn’t think it quite made the list.  Also note that Hanabi is an absurd selection for the 2012-13 list.

Larry’s Picks

1) Terra Mystica – Wins DSP and IGA and is a top 10 game on the Geek

2) Tzolk’in – Runner-up in DSP and IGA and a top 15 game

3) Android: Netrunner – Top 5 game, but “retread” status reduces its significance

4) Keyflower – Well rated, won a Meeples Choice, and got DSP and IGA mentions

5) Hanabi – Yeah, I know it’s from 2010, but with SdJ and a la carte, it got gamer’s attention this year

Larry says – Minimalistic games become all the rage:  Love Letter, Coup, et al.  As a game designer, you’re a bum if you use more than 16 cards.  Still, I am very satisfied that it never occurred to me to include Love Letter on my list.

Overlap Picks

1) Terra Mystica

2) Tzolk’in

3) Android: Netrunner

Uncharacteristically, Tom and Larry completely agree on the top three.  Don’t get used to it!

2011-12

Tom

1) Eclipse – No question that Touko Tahkokallio’s breakout hit takes the top spot.

2) Mage Knight – Chvatil returns with another epic.

3) Risk Legacy – Hasbro tries something incredibly new and innovative.

4) King of Tokyo – Garfield returns to the designing world (not counting 2006’s Rocketville of course).

5) Trajan – More Feldian Feldness.

Bonus Theme for the Year: Successful designers go back to the well with games like Ora et Labora and Kingdom Builder that don’t quite make the list.  Village wins the prize for most amusing song of the year.

Larry

1) Eclipse – Not a slam dunk, but #6 rating, Golden Geek, and general acclaim carry the day

2) Trajan – Not many games win both the IGA and Games Magazine awards

3) Mage Knight – Top 10 game and very high regard from gamers for Vlaada’s obsessive genius

4) Village – Won Kennerspiel and DSP and turned death into a gamer objective

5) Ora et Labora – Got mentions from SdJ, DSP, and IGA and a top 25 game

Larry says – Didn’t think of Risk Legacy and maybe I should have.  Glad I didn’t think of King of Tokyo.  And an honorable mention to an extremely clever solitaire game: Friday.

Overlap

1) Eclipse

2) Mage Knight

3) Trajan

A trio of heavy games make up the 2011 overlap selections.

2010-11

Tom

1) 7 Wonders – One of the most obvious #1 picks of course.

2) Qwirkle – Breaks through, kicking ass and taking names in Barnes & Noble.

3) A Few Acres of Snow – Sparks countless interesting debates on brokenness and award selection methodology.

4) Dominant Species – GMT does eurogaming and does it right.

5) Die Burgen von Burgund – Your annual dose of Feldtastic Felditude.

Bonus Theme for the Year: Before there was Nations and Patchistory, before there was Clash of Cultures, FFG took on TtA and did epic civ in Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game.

Larry

1) 7 Wonders – Won every award known to man, so yes, a very obvious choice

2) The Castles of Burgundy – Mentions for all 3 major awards and ranked #12; Feld’s most popular

3) Dominant Species – Top 20 game and Golden Geek winner; still has a strong following

4) Navegador – Strong finishes in DSP and IGA and a fine rating

5) Troyes – Top 50 game, good buzz on gameplay and artwork

Larry says – Wallace has a couple of near misses with London and A Few Acres of Snow. The latter would have made the list two years ago, but concerns over its “broken” status has caused its reputation to diminish.

Overlap

1) 7 Wonders

2) The Castles of Burgundy

3) Dominant Species

2009-10

Tom

1) Dixit – The SdJ actually picked the most notable game of the year?  What, huh?!

2) Glen More – Launched Matthias Cramer’s career.

3) Homesteaders – Launched TMG, for better or worse.

4) Summoner Wars – Managed to draw attention despite its paper boards and launched Plaid Hat.

5) Macao – Mr. Feld does not miss a beat.

Bonus Theme for the Year: Apparently Larry and I are in different hobbies or something, with no overlap for this year at all.  Hansa Teutonica is one of my personal favorites for the year, just behind Stronghold, but didn’t seem popular enough to make the list here.

Larry

1) Hansa Teutonica – Golden Geek winner and consensus GotY choice for serious gamers

2) Endeavor – Top 100 game with mentions in all three major awards, plus a Meeples Choice

3) Chaos in the Old World – Top 50 game and darling of lovers of thematic games

4) Fresco – DSP winner and a game that is always more popular than it gets credit for

5) Dungeon Lords – Top 100 game and the best I could come up with in a thin year

Larry says – A weak year overall, but Hansa T still seemed like a pretty obvious choice for the top spot.  I’m kinda surprised Tom didn’t even put it in his Top 5.

Overlap

NONE!

Tom and Larry have NO agreement in their Top 5s?  Who hired these guys anyway?!?

What do you think were the most notable releases from 2009 or any of these years based on the criteria laid out at the top?  And be sure to check back tomorrow for 2005 to 2008.

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24 Responses to Notable Notables: 2009-2013

  1. Dale Yu says:

    Tom, I was with you until 2009-2010. You must have changed medications during that year :)

  2. Tom Rosen says:

    Dixit, Summoner Wars, and Macao all seem like pretty straightforward picks from 2009… not sure why Larry didn’t pick any of those three. I can see why Homesteaders and Glen More are a bit stranger selections, but I picked them for the same reason I pick Antike later on this week, to mark the first in a lineage when I’m not going to pick any more from that “series” later on. What would your 2009 list look like?

    • huzonfirst says:

      Dixit, to me, is just another SdJ winner, just like Keltis and Niagara, neither of which came close to making my list in their appropriate years. The award is significant, but Dixit didn’t do that well in any of the other criteria, making it easy to leave off my list. Summoner Wars got some attention when it was first released, but not a huge amount and its rating is good, but not great. The Master Set, which came two years later, was what really got gamers excited. And I considered Macao for my fifth spot, but Dungeon Lords got more nominations and has the higher rating.

      Tom seems to put great importance on first appearances, which was not one of our criteria, but hey, he can make whatever selections he wants. It gives his list a, shall we say, somewhat quirky bent, but it does make for entertaining reading.

      • Tom Rosen says:

        Folks may have noticed, but I obviously took Larry’s bullet point criteria more as a suggestion or guideline than a rule :)

        Also Dixit is definitely the most notable release from 2009. History will bear me out on this!

    • Ben (chally) says:

      Leaving Hansa Teutonica off your 2009 list was just inexcusable, Tom. But worse is the omission of Small World from both your lists. The game launched a small franchise, and is one of the few titles in our hobby that has managed to reach some mainstream consumers (mostly by appearing in bookstores, back when such things existed). Endeavor also likely deserved some recognition, as it climbed into the BGG Top 30/40 by the end of its first year (showing far better than games like Bora Bora and Keyflower from last year), even though its staying power is questionable.

      I think one of the challenges of this format is that initial game reception tends to get forgotten over time, and the current BGG rankings can induce some revisionist history (as Larry rightly notes was the case with Summoner Wars and which was also true of Homesteaders – whose rather flimsy first edition I purchased).

      I have a particular connection to 2009, since it was my first real year as a board game hobbyist, and the most “notable” games at the time included the above three titles, plus Dungeon Lords, At the Gates of Loyang, and Vasco da Gama, the latter of which topped Essen’s FairPlay poll, held the highest average rating of the Essen crop for a long while, made a strong charge into the BGG Top 100 before some raving lunatic threw it off his roof in one of the most “notable” video meltdowns in recent history.

      • Tom Rosen says:

        Ben – We both picked Small World in the 2008-09 year in Tuesday’s writeup, so never fear, we’re giving Days of Wonder some recognition there.

        But good call on Vasco de Gama. That game really was everywhere back then before it dropped off the face of the Earth, but you’re right about it being pervasive at the time. I guess then it comes down to how you weight the factors in terms of notability at time of release versus over time.

      • Small World made both of their 2008 lists though :) Is there an easy way for us to see all games released broken down by July-July? It’s hard to ‘play along at home’ otherwise.

        • huzonfirst says:

          I’m not sure there’s an easy way to do this, Martin. Probably your best bet is to check out the SdJ, DSP, and IGA nominees for each fiscal year (you can find those in the Geek wiki); that will give you a good set of games to start from. For the more recent games, the Versions section of the Geek entry shows months of publication. For older games, it’s tough and I frequently had to do some research, like seeing the first postings for the games on the Geek. The old Luding site (www.luding.de) often states whether games are Essen or Nuremburg designs, but it’s not always accessible and it’s far from consistent.

          The good news is, the date of publication listed on the Geek means you only have two choices for which year a game is qualified for, so a little spade work should resolve things. But if you’re looking for a simple way to come up with a list of titles to consider for each fiscal gaming year, I’m not sure that’s possible.

  3. Marc Gilutin says:

    I love that you guys did this completely independently of each other, regardless of what you might have changed had you shared lists before finalizing them.

    • Tom Rosen says:

      Thanks Marc. Yeah it was interesting trying to come up with the lists independently. I like to think it made me work extra hard to make sure I didn’t leave off something obvious, which would allow Larry to taunt me mercilessly. It also made for an interesting reveal when I finally got to see his selections and had to slap my forehead a few times in the process.

  4. seisyll says:

    This is a very interesting exercise – just the discussion behind the criteria you’re each using could be several pages long, I imagine. On one hand, it seems like you’re trying to capture the present zeitgeist for each year – but as you reach further into the past, it’s tougher to get a sense of where popular opinion of that year is now, since no one makes “Best of 2009″ lists any more. I suspect conflicts in the lists will become greater over time (with the exception of obvious selections like Agricola, Puerto Rico, Carcassonne and so on.) You see through a more tinted lens as you deal with years where the popular hits are faded away and your connoisseur instinct kicks in. (The omission of King of Tokyo from the top three feels wrong for the moment – but you’ll probably be correct in another two years.)

    As far as 2009 goes, I would say The Resistance has had the biggest impact since then – if remembrance is the criteria. Tales of the Arabian Nights has really held some lasting appeal as well – it says something that it constantly needs a reprint. I love Glen More and Hansa Teutonica, but I think the top three would be: The Resistance, Summoner Wars and either Dixit or Tales of the Arabian Nights. Thunderstone is also very popular still.

    For 2010, I feel like Innovation warrants a mention – although it’s possibly more of a cult hit. I think it’s solidified itself more than Navegador or Macao. But your top three look correct.

    Anyway, good stuff as usual!

    • Tom Rosen says:

      You might think that conflicts in the lists would become greater as we went backwards, but I don’t think it ended up that way. In fact, in tomorrow’s installment, there’s a year when we happen to agree on all 5 titles, and that may even happen again later in the series. I think picking recent years was harder in some ways because the sense of which games are meaningful in the long-term hasn’t had as much time to crystallize.

      Good point about The Resistance. That’s a great selection! Innovation would also be an interesting choice, although I’d be hard pressed to decide between that and Glory to Rome if you had to pick one Carl Chudyk game as the most notable.

  5. Jimmy (BGG: Butterfly0038) says:

    I’m surprised there wasn’t any love for Archipelago in 2012. It bends cooperative games yet again by creating a mutually assured destruction element separate from the traitor mechanic.

    Also, how could you both skip Innovation in 2010? Although it feels chaotic, with repeated plays, the chaos becomes both manageable and exploitable.

    • Tom Rosen says:

      I totally agree that the chaos in Innovation becomes manageable and exploitable with experience. I’ve played the game 52 times and it’s a personal favorite from the year, but I just didn’t see it as garnering enough attention or play in the hobby more broadly. Reasonable people could differ certainly and it’s a totally sensible selection. Perhaps I tried extra hard to avoid giving extra weight to games I personally loved, but didn’t get the sense others did so much, which Innovation is a perfect example of.

  6. Hanabi may be an absurd selection for 2012-13 Tom, but where the hell is it in your 2010 list? :)

  7. Craig Massey says:

    Okay, lots to digest here with an interesting article – great job by the way guys!! – so I’ll very likely have more comments, but first reaction was that “Android: Netrunner loses its significance because its a retread” comment from Larry. It might be a reprint, but retread seems rather misplaced and I think its significance is not diminished. While the LCGs from Fantasy Flight are generally successful, Netrunner has clearly captured the imagination and table time from game players from a wide spectrum of hobbyists. Show me another 20 year old game ready for reprint that can shoot to the top of the BGG rankings. I’m not sure there is anything of significance out there that can.

    • seisyll says:

      I think if a cube product (especially a “powered” one) ever came out of Magic: the Gathering, then you’d see some serious legitimization from board game aficionados. But it’s unlikely to happen until the game goes into decline.

      • Tom Rosen says:

        Good call. I built my own retro cube with the help of a friend (Vesuvan Doppelganger and Shivan Dragon FTW), but I’d definitely be interested if M:tG ever printed an actual boxed cube. It could have different card backs and fronts to ensure no tournament use, but include old power cards. That would be awesome.

  8. huzonfirst says:

    I certainly didn’t mean “retread” in an insulting way, Craig. I agree that the performance by a 20 year old game is remarkable and indicative of how far ahead of its time it was. But in spite of its #5 ranking on the Geek, it didn’t do that well with the awards. It finished fourth out of five games for the 2-player IGAs and wasn’t really competitive. I was very surprised that it didn’t even make the top 10 in the Meeples Choice Awards. And while it snagged a few nominations, it didn’t make much of a splash with any of them. The most likely explanation for this discrepancy is that the voters, for whatever reason, were reluctant to give many GotY votes to an older title, in spite of how much they enjoyed the reprinting. So I’m not saying the game was insignificant due to its reprinted status, just that it affected the way that many people viewed it when they were asked to list their favorite games of the year.

  9. Craig Massey says:

    That helps clarify your thinking for me Larry. Much appreciated. From my perspective, I sort of discount the impact of the awards, but can see how that influenced your thoughts. Its #5 for pete’s sake which says to me it has made a huge and wide reaching impact. Looking at both your lists, I’d venture to say that I would have put it as the top game of the year for that reason alone. I’m not surprised the game didn’t place in the top 10 of the Meeple’s Choice and only slightly raised an eyebrow at the IGA results. I think more likely that voters were reluctant to give votes to a two player game and more specifically a two player game in the LCG model. Five years down the road, I’d wager that Netrunner is played more than the other top five on both yours and Tom’s list and I say this as a huge Terra Mystica fan.

    • Tom Rosen says:

      I’m a huge fan of Netrunner, both the old and the new version, and have played it hundreds of times. But I only really considered it for 1996, which you’ll see on Friday. The same way I didn’t really consider the reprints of Steam and Tales of the Arabian Nights. There’s probably a game I picked somewhere this week that breaks this rule, but generally I considered games in their first year of publication. And I love the Netrunner LCG very much, but it’s still awfully similar to the original. I’m an anomaly and don’t even like Terra Mystica, but still thought it merited being #1 for 2012.

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