10 (Occasionally) Obscure Gems of 2011 – An Early Take

It’s too early for me to really consider the games of 2011 – among other things, there are many I haven’t played yet, and many I haven’t played enough – but that doesn’t preclude giving a “where things look right now” perspective.  So, picking right now, and knowing the list is likely to change, what are my ten favorite 2011 releases?

In alphabetical order:

Artus: There are two games on this list which, though I list them among my favorites for the year, I haven’t decided if I need to own them.  Artus is one such case; I think what it does – the mechanisms of the game – are very clever, and having decided against picking up a copy (after having played it three times) I’ve recently found myself reconsidering.  At worst, it’s a game I’m happy to play.

Die Burgen von Burgund: At this point, one of only three games from 2011 to jump into the “long term favorite” bucket.  Die Burgen von Burgund meets one of my primary criteria for a game, in offering lots of choices every turn.  I still prefer Macao at this point – but Macao continued to grow on me with repeated play, which this game still might.  The third highest ranked 2011 release on BGG as I write this, and one of the rare cases where BGG and I see (essentially) eye to eye – it’s my second highest ranked 2011 release.

Freitag: This is the other game I haven’t decided if I need to own – mostly because I don’t know that I have use for a solitaire game in my collection.  Gaming, to me, is primarily a social activity; as a result, I have a strong preference for multiplayer games over two player games.  (Though, having a preference for smaller crowds, party games tend towards too big a gathering for me.)  But Freitag is a really amusing and enjoyable solitaire game, so – I’m thinking about it.

Guild: Guild is the latest game from Kenichi Tenabe, the designer of Inotaizu / Kaigan.  I’ve had it less than a month, now, but I’ve played it three times, and it has definitely impressed me.    The game breaks the usual Eurogame mold of acquiring resources and using them to buy victory points by adding on side requirements (keeping a growing opposing army at bay) and with a clever pyramid structure players must maintain.

Le Pâtissier: Another release from Tenabe, this one with a delightful theme (a pastry competition, where you cannot finish last on technical points, but then only artistic points determine the winner) and clever mechanisms (tile laying, with increasingly difficult play over time).  It’s a much lighter game than Guild, and correspondingly not as deep, but on the whole  Le Pâtissier seems likely to hold a place in my collection for many years.

Monster-Falle: My children will soon both officially be teenagers, so I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to children’s games.  But we were preparing an Amazon order, and I noticed this (along with another game which won’t make this list), and decided to take a chance.  And I’m thrilled that I did; it’s a speed-dexterity game (never a good starting place for me) with multiple partnerships that’s delightful to play.  I’m not sure just when I’ll get to play it with anyone the minimum age suggested – but it’s a perfectly fine game for adults in the mood for something light, too.

Pantheon: I’d received a head’s up about this game, and was glad I had; while there are many things it’s not, I’ve found it to be a consistently enjoyable game, with the handy property of speeding up as the game goes along.  Not everyone seems to enjoy that, but Pantheon offers interesting things to do throughout the game – and the ability to prepare for the endgame rush, so long as you’re aware that it’s present.  And the game thus avoids overstaying its welcome.

Rails of New England: This is my favorite release of 2011.  Which is unusual, because I didn’t expect that, at all.  I’d played the prototype, and knew I wanted to play the game more.  But as I played it more, I came to realize that a lot of the touches the designers put into the game made it one I really care for.  The businesses are history – representing specific industries of the time, and in many case specific individual businesses.  There’s an economic game underlying, but it’s a fairly simple system to follow, so that players can judge their position and make adjustments.  The game isn’t short – but it’s still the 2011 release I’ve played the most over the year.  And at this point, it’s clearly my favorite 2011 release.

String Railway Transport: When I played String Railway – just this Spring, in fact – I thought the system was clever, but the game didn’t yet gel with the system.  I got to try Paperclip Railways this Autumn, and was of the same opinion – this time, the game was pushed into greater complexity, which for me didn’t mesh well with the simple connection system.  Then I tried String Railway Transport – which got it right.  I’ve only played once so far, but I am reasonably confident this will remain on my top-ten list for the year, and it might grow to be a favorite.

Trajan: For some reason, the groups I saw sight-reading this at Lobster Trap were having difficulty getting going; I’m not just sure why, as I don’t think it’s a complex game to play.  Like many of Feld’s games, though, it’s complex to do _well_ at, and it takes some doing to understand how to carry off a string of actions.  The Mancala-system for choosing actions is brilliant, in my opinion, but might make this a poor choice for those bothered by slow play; this game seems to breed it, in spite of the relatively limited number of choices available each turn and possibilities for planning ahead.  Some of the theme isn’t quite right, but on the whole the theme isn’t distracting, as many find it in Macao.  My most recent play of Trajan, my third, has me convinced that this game will fall in the top half of my top 10 for 2011 when all is said and done.

For reference, the other 2011 releases I’ve played are: A Few Acres of Snow, A Fistful of Penguins*, Airlines Europe, Alba Longa, Aquileia, Artè, Belfort, Carcassonne: Dice Game, Color Stix*, Coney Island, Das große Kullern*, Drum Roll, Eminent Domain, Fall of the Roman Empire, Fiese 15, Fliegende Teppiche*, Geizen, Great Western, Hawaii*, King of Tokyo*, Kingdom Builder, Lancaster, Mare Balticum, Master Merchant, Master of Pizza, MIL, Paperclip Railways, Pergamon*, Power Grid: The First Sparks*, Principato, Quarriors, Quebec, Rapa Nui, Revolver: The Wild West Gunfighting Game, Singapore, Slate, Spectral Rails, Spring Fever, Strasbourg, Terra Evolution, The City, The Road to Canterbury, Top & Down, Tournay, Tricky Bid, Tuareg, Ubongo: Das Kartenspiel, Uluru, Vanuatu, Walnut Grove

* – honorable mentions; one or many of these could make a top-2011 list I do at some later point in time, along with games I’ve yet to try.

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6 Responses to 10 (Occasionally) Obscure Gems of 2011 – An Early Take

  1. huzonfirst says:

    Joe, I’ve tried reading the English rules to Guild, but I find them really hard to follow. Would it be possible for you to summarize the game in a few paragraphs, or maybe even provide a review in the future?

  2. Joe Huber says:

    Can’t promise a review, but I can try for a quick summary in the next day or two…

  3. peer says:

    Did you buy the games from Kenichi Tenabe directly from the author or is there a distribution system?

  4. Joe Huber says:

    To answer the second question first – I bought both Guild and Le Pâtissier directly from the author.

    As to a summary of Guild:

    The game is played over a number of rounds, until the round in which the final war occurs. At that point, scores are calculated and the player with the most victory points wins.

    A round consists of the following steps:

    * Auction
    * Actions
    * War (if relevant)
    * Set up for the next round

    The auction is a closed-fist (i.e., blind) auction, where the bid impacts both the order in which players get to carry out actions and one of the actions. Ties go to the first player for the round (or the next player clockwise involved in the tie).

    Actions involve five possibilities:
    * Buying Guild Cards
    * Placing Guild Cards
    * Adding Supporters
    * Kingdom Action
    * Activation

    These actions can be done in any order. Buying Guild Cards is the action where auction bids matter; the amount bid is both (1) the cost of each card purchased, and (2) the maximum number of cards which may be purchase. (i.e., for a bid of 2, each card bought costs 2, and you can buy no more than 2.) Placing Guild cards costs both the goods listed, and a cost equal to the level on which they’re placed; Guild cards can not be placed on a lower level than the number on the card. Adding supporters costs the goods listed, and a cost equal to the level under the base of Guild cards plus one. The Kingdom Action can be taken for the Kingdom from which you bought Guild Cards, after the purchase of the first card. And Activation activates all of the Guild cards diagonally below the chosen card, plus the chosen card, generating goods or allowing for the listed trades.

    War occurs when a deck of the non-action supporters (those worth 6, 5, or 4 victory points) runs out, and when the Guild deck is exhausted. The third war is always the final war, regardless of which event triggered it. Players compare their available armies to the required number (determined by Guild cards, or a fixed 12 if the Guild deck is exhausted); everyone who can and wishes to meet the challenge discards armies and wins either a Guild card or (if the final war) 3 victory points.

    Finally, Guild cards are put out (one for each kingdom with 1+; 2 for those with 0), the start player is changed, and the next round begins.

    Larry, does that help?

  5. Pantheon was a dark horse for me this year. I didn’t even expect to like it, thinking it was that typical uninspired euro. But I was wrong, it was actually a very clever game, and one I liked more than I thought.

    I liked Trajan, and thought the use of the mancala wheel was really cool. But almost everyone I played it with was not a fan. I thought the design was clean, but I have a feeling that it’s going to suffer the “samey” effect with a lot of people. If it was released several years ago, I predict it would have been a top 10 game, but today? Not even close.

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