I thought I’d take a slightly different approach to my “Best Of…” List and rather than count down my Top 10 games of the year, I thought it would be interesting to hand out a few awards in a number of categories that I came up with this week when I started to take a look back at the past year in boardgaming.
Best Race Game (Road): Rallyman
This may, in fact, be my favorite race game of all-time now. The game is incredibly well balanced, and the way that the game forces you to press-your-luck against the dice when you need to make up time is simply brilliant. Like many race games, there is a possible down-time issue here, but it is what it is. I have just heard that there is a dirt track expansion that is available online – so that will add to the possible variety of tracks for this great game.
Best Race Game (Sea): Caravelas
Caravelas, from MESAGames in Portugal, is a interesting exploration game set in the 15th and 16th centuries. Though it isn’t really a race game, it sure feels like it – as you will tend to do better if you’re able to move further each turn… and therefore have a better chance at discovering new ports and trading partners. While the game may have a few issues that will keep it from playing well with serious gamers – such as a possible imbalance with the destination cards, it has been a success with my kids and with casual gamers.
Best Race Game (Bike): Velocity
Honestly, I thought this game was out earlier than 2010, but BGG has it down as 2010 – so it must be right. It is a quick playing game by Kevin Nunn that uses dice to determine movement. You can roll a single die for your own racer, or if there are a group of racers on the same space, you can roll multiple dice which will cause all the racers to move. There are a lot of tactical decisions to be made when you consider the different moving options. Sadly, this game from Abacus didn’t seem to get a lot of press over here, but it’s certainly worth a look
Best Word Game: What’s my Word?
I love What’s My Word?, the two-player game designed by Joli Quentin Kansil that takes a word game and mashes it up with Mastermind. The game comes packaged in two self-contained binders which makes it a great game to travel with as well… In this category, a close second place award goes to Scrabble Flash – a sweet electronic version of the game (limited to 5-letter words) that you can find in mass market big box stores.
Best 2-player Game Simulating a Video Game: Yomi
Yomi is an interesting take on RPS (rock-paper-scissors). The full game offers 10 different decks, each of which represents a different character in a make-believe video game (think Street Fighter clone). Each deck has different special abilities, so you have to know what strategies each deck will likely favor. While the base of the game is RPS, there is more depth to the game than you’d expect given the unique setups of each character. If you want to try it out before you buy, you can play this one online first at http://www.fantasystrike.com/dev/
Best Deck Builder not named Dominion: Tanto Cuore
Again, disclaimer time – I am a developer for Dominion. OK, now that that’s out of the way – Tanto Cuore is a somewhat obscure release from Arclight in Japan. It takes the basic game concepts of Dominion, gives it a new theme (anime maids) and throws in a few rules twists. There are some cards which now give permanent effects throughout the whole game. Originally, it was available only in Japanese, which seemed to discourage people from acquiring it. However, there appears to be a English-language version coming out via Cardhaus, so hopefully people will play this more in the future.
Best Deck Builder That Doesn’t Have Decks: Puzzle Strike
The other 2010 release from Sirlin Games (other than Yomi) also caught my eye. This is another game which takes the core ideas from Dominion but offers up a different victory condition as well as a different format – the game is made up of chips rather than cards. It’s another interesting take on the deck builder idea, and I find that there is enough different from Dominion here to give me occasion to play it. I will say that it is slightly more convenient that I don’t have to shuffle as much (you mix the chips up in a bag) but it is slightly less convenient to try to fan out chips as opposed to cards. So, in the end, it’s a draw in that regard.
Best Game I Still Had to Paste Up: Firenze
Let’s face it, there aren’t many games out there that don’t come with an English language version anymore, but Firenze is a gem of a game which just recently received a deal for English (via Z-man). This is from one of my favorite game designers, Andreas Steding – and you strive to be the best architect in old-time Firenze. The game is all about timing – once you start building a structure, you must build it up each turn or it is torn down. Obviously, you’d like to build as much as you can as quick as you can, but the penalties for not continuing a building are quite painful – so you have to plan carefully!
Best Game with Educational Benefit: Travel Blog
Vlaada Chvatil has pretty much covered every possible genre with his game designs. Travel Blog continues to highlight his designing versatility . This game asks players to race in real time to discover the fastest routes between US States (or European Countries). I’ve found that this game is a pretty decent way to get my kids more familiar with the US states and their relative positions on the map. A second place goes to Discover India with its many interesting facts about India found on the back of the festival cards.
Best Wine Game: Toscana
Essen 2010 was hailed as the year of the Wine Game, and there were three major games on offer. I’ll admit to being underwhelmed by the entire vintage, but of the three, I think I like Toscana the best. Vinhos was simply too long and un-necessarily complicated for me to enjoy, and Grand Cru has proven to be a bit too fragile for my group. By process of elimination, Toscana takes the competition… though the wine-meeples are pretty sweet to look at too!
Best Game Named Loch Ness: Loch Ness (HiG)
Essen 2010 was also hailed as the year of naming games Loch Ness. Well, there were only 2 games which shared the name – and I find that the HiG version is a fun romp for the family. In this game, you try to predict where Nessie will end up on the board (her movements are determined by cards played each player) so that you can take pictures of the creature. It’s a light game, but one that plays well with my kids. Luke has compared it to Dragon Parade, but with a bit more complexity – and I think that this is spot on.
Best Game Using Dice: Troyes
Normally, dice are frowned upon in TGOO, but Troyes makes good use of the “cubic luck bringers” to create an interesting strategy game with lots of tough decisions. The main reason why I think the dice work in Troyes is that a “bad” roll can generally be mitigated by either using influence points to change the number rolled or to “purchase” the dice that others have rolled. Either way, even if you roll suboptimally, there are plenty of choices for you to make in the game. I’ve not played this one as much as I’d like to (maybe only 5 games thus far), but there seems to still be a lot of game space for me to explore. Especially the winning part of the game space as I’ve yet to figure out how to win this one…
Best Game That I Would Play with Casual Gamers (But Not With “Serious” Gamers): Cargo Noir
This has gotten a lot of negative press lately, but I’m definitely a fan of the game. It’s a nice light auction game, and if it’s played with players that are not prone to Analysis Paralysis, it moves along quite nicely. My kids love it, and I think that the art and graphic design are beautiful to look at. I think that this game stands a decent chance at a Spiel des Jahres nomination based on its beautiful graphics and easy gameplay.
Best Game from Lookout Games 10th anniversary Bohnanza of games: Merkator
2010 may have been the year of the wine game… It was also the year that Lookout Games exploded with 10 different titles to celebrate their 10th Anniversary. Being the proud parent that I am, I wanted to put the Agricola Legen*dairy expansion deck in this slot… But it wouldn’t be fair to Merkator which is one of my favorite games of the year. I like the way the game challenges you to deal with the other players with the Traveling Alone mechanic. There are times when you need to decide whether it’s worth it to go along with another player, and other times when you might need to choose between two possible destinations based on what your opponents might do… Good stuff!
Best Game with An Art Theme: Florenza (over Fresko and Pastiche)
If it wasn’t wine games, it was art games. At least three major releases all based their theme on the art world: Florenza, Fresko and Pastiche. Of these three, I found Florenza the most appealing. It’s is by far the most complex of the three as well as the longest – with my three-player games often clocking in at 2 hours or more. It’s a multi-level game of collecting cubes (representing paint) to paint different commissions, hiring appropriate artists to do the work, and setting up workshops for you and your opponents to use. With the use of workshops, it kinda feels a little bit like Caylus on steroids. While it’s a very good game, like Vinhos and a few others from 2010, it seems like a little bit of editorial paring would have gone a long way and could have streamlined this one into a classic for me – but as it stands, the game length makes it one that will be hard to play regularly with my usual groups.
Best Party Game: No winner
I generally dislike party games. There were plenty released, but none that I’d care to play again. It’s not the party games – as I’m sure there are good ones out there – it’s just the fact that I tend not to like them.
Best Cooperative Game: Mousequetaires du Roy
OK, so I’m also not a big fan of cooperative games. But, Mousequetaires deserves mention as it is a very good game which draws a lot from the 3 Musketeers theming. Yes, the rules are a bit daunting in their complexity, but this is actually a pretty good game with the sense of impending doom that marks most good cooperative games. Alongside Ghost Stories, this is the only cooperative game that has managed to keep a spot on my shelf. (Honorable mention to Hanabi&Ikebana – but as I play it more, it feels less and less like a cooperative game and more like a group think game where your group has to make a bunch of house rules to try to overcome the game.)
Best Game to Play with My Kids: Snapshot
Man, do my kids love Snapshot! This is a Kosmos release from early in the year – and it has been an instant hit with my kids. The game is all about flicking your colored disc around the box in order to accomplish your goals. Most of these goals are found on cards which come up in random order each game. The rules are dead easy to learn, and it’s the sort of game that elicits cheering and laughter from all the participants as well as the spectators. This game would also win the award for “Best Rudiger Dorn Game (not just of 2010)”. It’s interesting to see that this sort of game comes from the same person who designed Goa. Looks like Vlaada Chvatil has a contender for the most versatile game designer crown!
Best Reprint: Samarkand
There were a number games that received a reincarnation in 2010, and my favorite one was Samarkand – a new version of Age of Scheme (Winsome) which was produced by Queen. The original version didn’t have many copies made, so this wonderful networking game didn’t get a lot of attention originally for gameplay (though it did have some notoriety for other reasons). The folks of Queen did the game up with their usual attention to detail and quality components, and I’m glad that more people will have the chance to experience this fascinating game. A close runner-up would be Age of Industry which wins because it only cements my conviction never to try to play Brass again.
Best Abstract: Caminos
A neat path-building game from Bambus/Murmel. Each player tries to cross the board from one side to the other using wooden pieces. I’m actually pretty miserable at this game because my spatial relationship ability is pretty poor – but I still love playing this game. A close second place would go to the abstract tile-laying game of Aether.
Best Game by A Designer Who I Had Previously Disliked ALL of His Older Games: Luna, Stefan Feld
I had pretty much disliked all other Stefan Feld games, but Luna pretty much brought me around to thinking that there are some good designs coming out from Herr Feld. I tended not to like the constant battle (drag) of badness in his earlier releases (rats in Notre Dame, plague in ITYOTD), which was a bit strange because I usually like that constant tension in a game. Nevertheless, until Luna, none of Feld’s games had caught my attention.
Best Pocket Version: Mini-FITS (Mr. Jack Pocket)
In a trend that I hope will continue, little versions of previous hits are being released. Ravensburger has always done a good job with the Mitbringspiel (MBS) line – and Mini-FITS is no exception. This small game packs most of the punch that you’d find in the normal version, but this one can easily fit in a jacket pocket or purse. Mr. Jack Pocket was another nice mini-version – I just happen to like FITS better. Sadly, neither of these comes close to the all-time winner in the category, the Mini-Heckmeck that comes in a mint tin. I just think it’s so nice to have nice professional versions of games that I can take when traveling.
Best Meeples – Norenberc
Cupcake and beer stein meeples. Nuff said. Early contender for 2011 would be Hornet and it’s “bee-ples”
Best 10 Games of the Year for Me (in alphabetical order) –
- 20th Century
- 7 Wonders
- Magnum Sal
(Just missed – Busstop, Florenza, What’s My Word?)
That’s it from here! Enjoy the weekend…