Patrick Brennan: My Awards For The 2010 Releases

Enough with the chit-chat, let’s cut to the chase. In consideration of the fifty six 2010 games I’ve played to date, the envelopes please …

MOST TIME SPENT PLAYING

Washington’s War It has the same feel as its father, We The People, but there’s plenty of upgrade tweaks to add interest. Enough to warrant some enjoyable plays exploring it anyway. The British still have overwhelming troops but it’s hard to move them. The Americans find it hard to keep troops on the board but easier to move. Between these two strategy bookends, the game is an area majority battle in each of the 13 states – placing your markers down either directly through card play or by judicious use of armed forces, taking advantage of the point-to-point geography to secure off areas and to isolate and kill off opponent markers. The game can have key swings, usually more as a result of good / unfortunate hands than an unlucky combat. Like We The People, there’s a touch too much chrome to make it an “easy” pick up and play if it’s languished on the shelf for a bit, but there’s a lot of good decision angst and it’s a good length for what it offers. An 8.

MOST TIMES PLAYED

OnirimA result of its short time frame and some slow rainy afternoons perhaps, but nonetheless it’s a decent solo / 2 player proposition. The basic game ain’t that interesting, but my rating increased after exploring the expansions. These are just additional levels of difficulty provided within the base game, done by adding in new card types to build, forcing you to do things in a certain order or adding triggerable penalty cards. Each expansion has an easy level and a hard level and they’re all mixable and matchable, so when you’ve got the gist of how to tackle one combination, you can move onto a different combo which may require a different approach to win. I think there are 27 different combinations, where the best approach could differ in each through discard vs play ratios, how often to play keys as prophecies, which of the 4 ways should I deal with the nightmare cards, and so on. At the harder levels, it may generally come down to sheer luck, but getting yourself into position for the win isn’t, and that’s the challenge.

Essentially you play once through the deck with the aim of extracting the 8 door cards (2 in each colour) from the deck. There’s 2 ways of doing it – having the key card in that colour in your hand when it appears, or build 3 in a row to the tableau in the same colour without 2 adjacent cards having the same symbol. The good news is that if you can’t extract, it goes back into the deck. The hard bit is how to deal with the 10 nightmare cards (in the 76 card deck) – you can do so by discarding a key (powerful cards in short supply), or discarding your hand and drawing a new (usually the best bet if you don’t have keys in hand), losing one of your hard gotten doors or discarding 5 cards off the top of the deck (which could be disastrous if keys are lost). So there are good decisions to make throughout. The game is marred by the oft-required shuffling, needed whenever doors appear when you can’t extract them, or when you re-draw a hand (when you get to ignore nightmares and doors), and that keeps the rating at a 7.

BEST AMERITRASH GAME

ClaustrophobiaAhhh, a dungeon crawl bash-em-up that plays in an hour and has meaningful and agonising choices for both players each turn. There’s minimal text driven ability manipulators, so movement and combat are fast to execute. The first hard decision each turn is with the human player who must roll 1 dice for each of his warriors (4 or so dependent on scenario) and allocate a result to each warrior. In a cunning process, each warrior has 6 sets of [movement, # of attack dice, defence value], usually offsetting each other, and the die result you allocate to the warrior dictates what set of values it has this turn. Each time a warrior takes a hit, one of those sets disappears from use. Hit all 6 and they’re dead, baby, dead. On the demon side the hard decision is again dice based, where the 3 dice you roll can get used in any of a dozen ways – gain Threat Points to bring on bad guys, get event cards, etc. It’s hard because you want everything now. Combat is simply roll however many attack dice you’re allowed and hit each time you’re >= the target’s defence value, making turns quick once the hard decision’s been made. Scenarios seem to be generally based around explore / escape or explore / kill the boss, each with a twist, where success for either player seems to continually hang by a thread. Fast paced turns, the right level of chrome (event cards, etc) to mix things up without slowing things down, easy rules, lovely components. Lots to like if you’re looking for a thematic fun ride without having to kill a whole night. An 8.

Nominations here included:

Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game – Good effort, but I feel too constrained by the seemingly inevitable forced military race. A 7.

Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft – Enjoyable, but the decision making isn’t as tense as I’d like it. A 7.

Defenders Of The Realm – Great re-implementation of Pandemic, but the lack of consistency between each game (easy vs tense) decided against it. An 8.

Can a co-op really be Ameritrash anyway? Anyway, the latter two were both knocked back for the Co-op award for much the same reasons.

BEST CO-OPERATIVE GAME

Mousquetaires du Roy – Lots of “8” contenders, but I’ve gone for perhaps the least well known one just to be different. It’s pseudo Ameritrash really, as most progress is achieved via dice combats, but it has a Euro theme. The Musketeers are trying to fight their way through 4 different quest boards, with the fights mainly being dice competitions and card set melds. Sauron, here in a MiLady guise, keeps distracting them away though, because he/she, has 4 different ways to win at locations other than the quest, and those distractions need to be managed (more dice competitions and card set melds) and maintained at reasonable levels. Winning these fights gives money, and money allows the team to buy equipment which makes future fights and quests easier to win. How to spread this money amongst the team engenders good debate. Even more so does the continual question of what to manage next and who best to do it. And that’s the charm of the game. There are many ways to approach the issues and there’s continual engagement from all players. Sauron has less to do and fewer real decisions to make, mainly being to put out characters to fight, rolling the dice for them, and choosing the traps and challenges that maximises the pressure on the Musketeers. This can make for a fairly dull old time. There isn’t the secrecy tension that Shadows or Galactica offer, but it provides collective cheering and groaning as fates rise and ebb throughout. The rules aren’t great and there’s some chrome you’ll need to master, but there’s some fun to be had if you can invest the time. An 8.

Nominations here included:

Hanabi & Ikebana – Really interesting concept, but the “hold your tongue” requirement dampens cheer and groan factor. An 8.

Wok Star – It’s fun, but replay is limited by the real-time requirement, which serves to manufacture the pressure to make mistakes. An 8.

Forbidden Island – Good re-implementation of Pandemic for the family, where it’s been enjoyed, but the richer decision making in the original keeps it favourite. An 8.

BEST EURO GAME

I’m at a point now where I rarely buy Euros I haven’t played, wanting to know for sure it has something special and different about it before any blind purchase. As a result, I wouldn’t put much stock in this award as I’ve yet to get to many of the games that others have enjoyed from the year (Euro or not), including Merchants & Marauders, Navegador, Merkator, Mord Im Arosa, Key Market, Stich-Meister, Florenza, Rivals Of Catan, Mr Jack Pocket, Magnum Sal, Vinhos, 51st State, Moongha Invaders, Asara, Rise Of Empires, Sun Sea & Sand, Dominant Species, 20th Century. Hmmm, better ask me again next year. For what it’s worth though, may favourite Euro of the year was …

LunaI was expecting a very Euro-y, round-based affair, and it is pure Euro, but the rounds aren’t an issue, they’re just scoring breaks while you wheel your meeples around a stack of locations which change in value, with a raft of possible actions to work through and a wealth of scoring strategies to explore. I was pleasantly surprised at the replayability on offer and I look forward to playing more. An 8.

Nominations here included:

De Vulgari Eloquentia A decent game with different avenues to explore and an off-beat theme. A 7.

K2 – A nice planning game, but I’m not sure how much replayability there is due to limited scenarios and limited interactivity. A 7.

Fresco – Ok decisions, but the abstracted theme was just too abstract. A 7.

Glen More – A tight tile collection game, but the slow pace cruelled it for me. A 7.

Norenberc – Interesting, but repeating the same game 4 times within a game bugs me. A 7.

Poseidon – Decent mini-18xx, but the end-game feels too repetitive and un-interesting. A 7.

The Great Fire Of London 1666 – A juiced up Drunter & Druber, which is good, but its downside is being too chaotic with more players. A 7.

London – Ok card-power game, but too much downtime. A 6.

BEST CARD GAME

InnovationAn interesting game of collecting and placing cards to your tableau, looking for powers that complement each other and striving to gain majorities in the various symbols that drive the powers so as to allow you to execute them without people riding on your coat-tails Puerto Rico style. Your normal actions are to draw a card, play a card or execute a power, and you get two actions. The card powers in the lower decks are weak (you collectively start with deck 1 and work up to deck 10) but each higher deck has more and more powerful powers, becoming quite dramatic in the top decks. Powers range from better card drawing, being able to spread cards so symbols underneath count towards your majorities, to stealing cards from other players and, of course, scoring. You can only have 1 active power in each colour, so there are continual decisions on foregoing a useful power to get a different one. Another is on whether to just concentrate on building symbol majorities now and worry about scoring later, or go for the quick scoring grabs now to minimise the required effort later. If you want to do one of your powers when you don’t have the majority in the particular symbol it requires, you can still do it, but everyone with equal or more in that symbol can also do it, so that can be an interesting decision at times. Lots of cards and powers disappear through the game, so games range from highly interactive with lots of pussage to quiet scoring engine type games, and anywhere in between. And like the Melbourne weather, potentially all in one game. I found my initial plays entertaining and it was interesting to see how it unravels differently each time. There’s potential for rich-get-richer and player carnage, but I don’t mind that in a card-power game that’s over in a decent timeframe. I’m looking forward to more. An 8.

Nominations here included:

Ascension: Chronicle Of The Godslayer – Fast deckbuilder, but as you’re going thru the same deck each time, each game and hand can start to feel a bit same-y. An 8.

Haggis – The uberpower of the wilds wore me down and led to a rating drop. A 6.

Famiglia – A nice 2 player set collecting game with a twist. A 7.

Dragonheart – It works fine as a 7 minute filler at BSW for 2 players, but it’s too random to sustain ongoing play with actual real cards and shuffling. A 7.

BEST LIGHT GAME

7 WondersYeah, yeah, yeah, your results are decided by what your neighbours deny you and provide you, but its short time frame and ability to take 7 players provides this game a heap of replayability. An 8.

Nominations here included:

Hey Waiter! – Decent, but it hasn’t grabbed us with replayability. A 7.

Samarkand: Routes To Riches – A nice, non-demanding light stock game, but I can’t tell if it’s a meaty filler or a fillery meat. A 7.

Don Quixote – Fun to explore, but too random and solitaire for ongoing play. A 6.

BEST TIME PRESSURE GAME

AsteroydsRobo Rally on (a)steroids. Under immense time pressure, you need to quickly determine where every single asteroid in your vicinity is going to move (5 different types of asteroids, each moving in a different direction per the dice rolled at start of turn, moving a different number of spaces, some pushing, some not) and then program a series of straight aheads, lefts and rights to negotiate a safe path towards the next gate you need to get to (get to all 4 first to win). Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard, but the pressure is fun. And if it gets too easy, reduce the time allowed. There’s too much effort to set it up, and it’s too fiddly each turn moving all the asteroids before you move your rockets, but everyone pitches in and it goes pretty fast once you’ve done it a few times. And there’s any number of variants you can play if you’re done with the standard race game, including shoot ’em ups. My only reservation is that experienced players will dominate, but you can overcome this by having two different time restrictions in place. The standard game is over in 5 or 6 turns once you get cracking, say 20 mins or so. Good fun, but for time pressure fast-board-assessment junkies only. An 8.

Nominations here included:

Wok Star – As above

BEST DICE GAME

Alien Frontiers A jazzed up To Court The King with some resource gathering stuff to get you into the area majorities race to earn the VPs needed to win, with enough “take that” to keep things level throughout until someone sneaks over the line. It has the same downside though, pure downtime, but here’s it’s magnified because the game takes 3 times longer. Your own turn is interesting though and that can save the game. Roll your dice. Allocate them to boxes on the board worker-placement style (blocking spaces from other players until you retrieve the dice at start of next turn) earn resources, steal them, or pay those resources in various ways to either get more dice or to parachute meeples onto the board into the area majority areas. Or go for tech cards which will allow you to manipulate dice rolls, acquire resources, etc, in all sorts of different ways. If you’ve acquired smartly, by mid-game your turns should be a pretty interesting turn of dice manipulation options and hopefully you’ve developed a means of getting meeples onto the board more efficiently than the other players. If you can do it under the radar so that you’re stolen from just as much as the others, all the better. Towards the end, you can also discard those tech cards to move meeples between areas, which can be devastating to your score if you’re a perceived or actual leader and you’re the one hit. So the game all levels up, and hopefully your engine is still intact enough (after card stealing as well) to get you the win, getting your last meeple out there faster than anyone else at a point when you’re in a position to manipulate the meeples / score to get you over the line scorewise. It’s decent enough on your turns, but pretty boring watching analysis paralysis develop on other players’ turns as their decision trees broaden. No story, no tension arc, no drama, this is just a long dice game. I’d like to think you can do clever plans towards the end to get you the win in a rush, but with all the take-that (which gets more prevalent as the game develops and people have more dice to spare, particularly in a 4 player, less with less), you can’t take any planning too seriously. Having said that, I’m pretty sure this game doesn’t want to be taken too seriously anyway and I’m generally happy to play it because I know my own turns will be interesting. A 7.

Nominations here included:

Troyes – Too hitty, too slow, too round-repetitive and an uninteresting theme. A 6.

DOG OF THE YEAR

The game(s) with the most marked gap between expectation and reality …

Black FridayInscrutable rule-book, non-intuitive play, abstract price manipulation, with your result dependent on odds calculations of what comes out of the bag. All the fragility this promises is frustratingly delivered. A 5.

Nominations here included:

High Frontier – Great science but lousy, boring game-play. A 5.

Lords Of Vegas – A crap shoot where decisions don’t matter here either. A 5.

BEST CAMEL / PIRATE / NINJA CATGIRL GAME

Ankh-MorporkIt’s oft said about these parts that any game can be improved by adding any or all of these three “essential” thematic elements to a game. This selection is a bit of a cheat because it’s slated as a late 2011 release, but Martin, you’ve still got enough time to get all these features into the cards and really get this game up onto an unrivalled elevated plateau!!

SUMMARY

I sadly haven’t found any 9’s or 10’s from 2010 yet, so it hasn’t seemed a great year, but some show promise of getting there over time. No matter, there’s plenty of other “goodness” out there to enjoy in the meantime!

Cheers

Patrick

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Best Of. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Patrick Brennan: My Awards For The 2010 Releases

  1. Dale Yu says:

    Wow. Dog of the year and other candidates still merit a 5?
    Man, my scale must be harsher than yours… Or, you had extremely good luck picking only decent games to play all year!

  2. Tom Rosen says:

    I was gonna say that in addition to being generous with some of his least favorites, Patrick is also pretty harsh with some of his favorites. A few of the games garnering “best” in their category sound like they have some significant issues. I definitely appreciate the critiques though; it’s very helpful to hear the downsides of some of the games you otherwise liked.

  3. Doug says:

    I love the way Pat tells it like it is :)

    Interesting that you gush over Innovation, them comment about uber-power cards in Haggis! I gave Innovation two attempts and wrote it off as a chaotic mess of a game. Pity, because Glory To Rome is just so good.

    Best dice game for me was The Hobbit. Alien Frontiers (which is a smackdown-fest, until someone sneaks in a win).

    Samarkand is a nice, almost forgotten gem of a game. 7 Wonders is fun for five games, but Samarkand keeps me wanting more.

    BTW, I strongly resemble that remark about the Melbourne weather.

  4. Patrick Brennan says:

    Re Dog Of The Year, I have played worse 2010 games. But when you go into Zombie Dice, to pull one example out, you know what you’re getting yourself into. Expectation meets reality. With the nominations I listed, they all had the potential to be top class games, 8s and above, but these provided the biggest gap between expectation and reality. They were the biggest disappointments.

    Re Haggis vs Innovation, there’s a Tichu expectation here given it’s so derivative. The more I played, the less it felt like Tichu. I didn’t like how kingmakery the use of the wilds were (ie I’ll not use them this trick against him, but I will play them this trick against you, denying you the next lead) inducing too much frustration within each hand. Whereas Innovation, it’s not kingmakery, it’s just … big swings and change of flow. It’s more an experience game, with very cool decisions to make on how to make the change of flow happen.

    Re Alien Frontiers smackdown-fest, absolutely agree, and I haven’t bought it for that reason. I’m looking forward to trying the Hobbit. For me, it wasn’t a good year for dice games. Troyes just induced continual frustration in me … if not in what I rolled, then in having my dice stolen, or pushed out of a slot I was in. It felt destructive rather than constructive.

    I enjoy all the games I play though. But if they’re not 9s or 10s, there’s a reason!

    Cheers
    Patrick

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s