It’s interesting reading through everyone’s choices for the best of 2010 this week. For me, I have the luxury of going back and listening to my podcast from the year and reflecting on my initial thoughts about a game and how those impressions may have changed over the course of time. I will follow the same format as Greg S. and others, listing my Top 10 for the year, but before I do, I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane and mention some games that nearly made the cut or were some of the worst games of the year in my opinion.
By the way, I should say that a few of these may have technically come out in 2009, but my first playing of them was is 2010, and they were still fresh faces on the shelves of the games stores at the time.
Games that will never return to the table:
Though I consider myself a lover of many different games, sometimes I come across games that just do not work for me or leave a bad taste behind. The two games I never want to have to play again are:
a) Nuns on the Run – I just do not see the appeal. Hidden movement, less than stellar production values, awkward line-of-site checks, and the ability to easily cheat? Yuck. Send them back to their cells, or just let them escape!
b) Atlantis – let’s take some of the solid mechanisms from Cartagena and then throw in some tile removal for scoring and some extra “take that” action as those tiles disappear, making it harder to advance. I’ll stick with Colovini’s excellent original game.
Games that nearly made the Top 10:
a) Macao – Played first back in February 2010, this Stefan Feld big-box Alea game has another interesting Feldian dice mechanism, but just didn’t make it to the table very much. I also don’t have that “must play again” feeling that I’m currently experiencing with his latest Alea effort Castles of Burgundy/Burgund von Burgund (for more on this latter game, check out Episodes 258 and 259 of Garrett’s Games and Geekiness).
b) Forbidden Island – Matt Leacock’s family-oriented follow up to Pandemic found its way into more mainstream markets and we enjoyed the game with our 1st and 4th grade nephews. Heck, we even saw three middle school girls playing the game at In-And-Out Burger in December. Though co-ops don’t hit the table very often, I admire this design and plan to pull it off the shelf when it’s more important to get the family/kids to work together than it is to triumph single-handedly.
The Top Ten
10) World Without End (US Edition – Mayfair Games; Designed by Michael Rieneck & Stefan Stadler, Art by Michael Menzel) – This follow-up game to Pillars of the Earth incorporates the same lush graphics, but uses an interesting “where you sit determines your reward” mechanism at the start of each round that I enjoy. Yes, critics are correct that the luck-based fortune and bad-luck cards can play too heavy a role, but I have enjoyed my playings quite a bit and it scales well for 2-4 players.
9) Kaigan (originally Inotaizu; US Edition – Ascora Games; Designed by Kenichi Tanabe, Art by Peke) – I love it when a new designer comes onto the scene and comes up with inventive themes and unusual combinations of mechanisms. Here, the card placing/drafting mechanism from Coloretto is used to determine players’ turn actions. These actions then lead to attempts to score points on a second game board, gain more money, etc. I enjoy the pacing of the game as the angst of what card to place in which row, and when to instead claim a row and its actions, make for interesting decision points.
8) Egizia (US Edition – Rio Grande Games; Designed by Acchittocca, Art by Franz Vohwinkel) – Though both Leonardo Da Vinci and Comuni were interesting designs, both games suffered from a ‘too many cooks’ syndrome of throwing too many bits into the pot so that the result was overly-convoluted. Egizia, I’m happy to say, doesn’t fall into that same trap. This solid design provides players with interesting choices and angst – do I hang back and try to get more actions, or make sure I obtain that important item farther down the river? Also, the game scales well, though is very different with 2 compared to 4. With 2, you have many opportunities and less painful confrontation. With 4, things can get painful; you may be shut out of items you really need.
7) Jäger und Sammler (German Edition – Amigo Spiel; Designed by Reiner Knizia, Art by Claus Stephan) – For this game it is VERY important to specify the German version over the Twilight Creations variant called Zombiegeddon. Though it would be nice to get the domestic product and I am not adverse to some zombies thrown in the mix, the latter version changes a couple of rules to its detriment and its art makes the game much more difficult to play. This is essentially a set collection/point collection game that combines Knizia’s own Africa with Günter Cornett’s Hey That’s My Fish. Step on tiles, remove them when you step off, and you can’t go over empty spaces. A solid light- to middle-weight game that’s worth importing for your collection.
6) Level X (German Edition – Schmidt Spiele; Designed by Stefan Risthaus, Art by Dennis Lohausen) – One of the best game lines to come out in the past couple of years, Schmidt Spiele’s Easy Play games have been solid designs that range from OK to fantastic. This is one of the best in my opinion, taking elements of Sackson’s Can’t Stop and setting up scoring chips at the end of each row, along with bonus scoring tiles for collecting one of each chip. Great for families and non-gamers, but a fun filler for gamers too.
5) Vulgari Eloquentia (US Edition – Z-Man Games; Designed by Mario Papini, Art by Lamberto Azzariti, Guido Favaro, Eva Villa) – Now to one of the two heaviest games on the list. From its wonderful artwork that evokes the Middle Ages time period to the myriad of choices one has to gain points, this game is worth checking out. As Italy moves from Latin to the various Italian dialects, you are helping to establish which dialect will reign supreme. But this isn’t a word game – no, you gain knowledge, buy books in various dialects, advance in various areas of influence, and delve deeply into some wonderfully interconnected mechanisms. If it weren’t for my #1 below, this would be my favorite heavy game of 2010.
4) Telestrations (US Edition – USAopoly; Designer & Artist Uncredited) – the game that provokes more laugh-out-loud moments than any other I have played, this Pictionary/Telephone mash up should not be played for points. Get a bottle of wine and a good group of friends (or friendly acquaintances) together and have fun laughing as an initial word becomes something outlandish.
3) Fresco (US Edition – Queen Games; Designed by Wolfgang Panning, Marco Ruskowski, and Marcel Süßelbeck, Art by Oliver Schlemmer) – Though I like Dixit with its beautiful artwork and interesting spin on an Apples to Apples-type game, Fresco was my personal choice for Spiel des Jahres of the games nominated last year. Choose when to get up, enlist workers, then buy and mix paints and create the fresco. The fact that the base game works well with casual gamers, but the box comes with three excellent mini-expansions that beef up the game for more serious gamers, makes it a game I see us playing for many years.
2) 7 Wonders (US Edition – Asmodee; Designed by Antoine Bauza, Art by Miguel Coimbra) – A 7-player civilization-building game that plays in 30 minutes and has some solid depth? Count me in. Yes, some critique the solitaire nature of its play, but you must pay close attention to your next-door neighbors and don’t let anyone run away with the Green set-collection cards. This one will definitely get a nomination for SdJ and I will be shocked if it doesn’t win.
1) Vinhos (US Edition – Z-Man Games; Designed by Vital Lacerda, Art by Mariano Iannelli) – Shelley and I love wine. And (surprise surprise) love games as well. This is the best wine game we have ever played and its depth and complexity mesh with a theme that works perfectly. We aren’t 2+ hour game playing people for the most part, but given that I received the game a couple of weeks before the end of 2010 and it still nearly made my 10 plays list for the year, something about it clicked. Grow your grapes, produce your wine, deal with good or bad weather, sell to the retailers, get money from the bank, enlist experts to help with the wine, bribe others to get more actions in a turn, and then head to the fair to show off your creation. Whew! A lot to think about, but I want to return to this game again and again.
So that’s it – my Top 10 for 2010. Unlike some, I thought it was an excellent year for games that hit a variety of sweet spots, from party games to heavy-weight titles and everything in between.