As the year draws to a close, it’s a good time to look back at a year in gaming. Today I’ll take a look at 2012 new releases, and tomorrow I’ll look back at 2012 table time and what got played. There was another good crop of new games released at Essen this year and a few other releases earlier in the year as well. I’ve already discussed many of these in my Essen First Impressions article last month, but that was before BGG.CON where I had the chance to play many of those games additional times and to try a number of other games that I hadn’t yet tried. So now I’m back with more comprehensive thoughts on the year’s releases. I’ll start with The Best and then move on to The Rest, which I have subdivided into good, fair, and poor games to make things extra clear. Last year I put new releases and the year’s plays together in my 2011 Retrospective, but I had a bit more to say this year so have split the two topics up to save you from a giant wall of text. Check back tomorrow for the second half of this look back at the year that was 2012.
Starting with the best of the bunch makes sense, so let’s begin with my current top ten from the 2012 releases. These are the games that have stood out most for me this year:
- Mice & Mystics
- Escape: Curse of the Temple
- The Resistance: Avalon
- Robinson Crusoe
A great mix of new games was released over the past year, with something for just about any crowd. The list starts with a couple of excellent middle-weight games. Keyflower and Ginkgopolis are one-hour games of moderate complexity. They’re classic German-style games with auctions, area control, meeples, card drafting, and little confrontation. But they both have relatively interesting and engaging decisions considering their fairly light and quick gameplay. Moreover, they both feel fresh and like they have something new to offer, even after having played 1,000 games along these lines before. Next up is the slightly heavier German-style game of Myrmes, which incorporates resource gathering and board play that is reminiscent of Splotter’s Antiquity, but in a more accessible package. I particularly enjoy the theme of building ant hills, fighting predators, and laying pheromone trails. The random die roll that affects all players (a la Yspahan) is also seemingly now a staple of German gaming, but used to nice effect here.
Moving beyond the top three, we find Plaid Hat’s Mice & Mystics, which is basically Descent: Journeys in the Dark re-imagined with more emphasis on theme and implemented as a pure cooperative game. I enjoyed playing last year’s Risk Legacy as a recurring game with the same group, so Mice & Mystics allows me to revisit that model and is useful for spurring plentiful replays. The game could really benefit from an expansion that introduces more monsters to fight beyond the rats and cockroaches that get old fairly quickly, but the artwork is great and the gameplay is solid, even if it does leave a lot of rule interpretations to the imagination. Mice & Mystics was clearly a big 2012 release and highly anticipated with a lengthy pre-order program, but generally lives up to expectations with a game that was clearly very lovingly crafted.
The next three spots are occupied by a different sort of game entirely – party games. Pix is a great reimagining of pictionary in which players can only use square magnetic pixels to draw. In addition, players need to try to use fewer pixels than an opponent that is secretly and simultaneously drawing the same item because the player who uses fewer pixels will get the first shot at scoring. This is like that old game show Name That Tune in which contestants would engage in a Dutch auction of how many notes they would need to guess a song. In Pix the reverse bidding of pixel count is secret, which ratchets up the pressure of trying to cryptically depict the particular item with just a few pixels. Ultimately that leads to some pretty crazy nonsequitur guesses from the flailing crowd of onlookers. I should note that some folks I’ve taught this to have found this aspect frustrating, but I enjoy the open-ended nature of the game and despite having imported it am hoping for a domestic release so more people can have access to this interesting party game. Escape is a fast and frantic cooperative dice-rolling game. It’s got a CD soundtrack like Space Alert (or Space Dealer come to think of it) and it’s got simultaneous dice-rolling like Polizei-Alarm or Go Nuts. It would be better if the soundtrack was more clear-cut and less vague, but otherwise is a pretty perfect 10-minute game. Lastly, The Resistance: Avalon is a reimplementation of 2011’s The Resistance that adds interesting roles to the mix. Part of me prefers the elegant simplicity of The Resistance, which improved on Werewolf in surprising and wonderful ways. But the roles in Avalon are so ingenious and dastardly that it’s hard to resist going for this slightly more complex incarnation.
The best of 2012 is rounded out by three more games that don’t really group together quite as well as the previous three. Seasons is a game that mostly defies description, at least by me. It’s got to be one of my most played 2012 releases at 14 plays already, although part of that is just due to its relatively early release in the year. One flaw is that I find it best with three players and not as good with two or four players due to the less interesting draft with two and the downtime with four. The communal dice pool and the interaction of the 50 different nicely illustrated cards have kept the game interesting and kept me coming back for more. Pala is an interesting trick-taking game that takes some getting used to. While everyone should be familiar with the primary and secondary color wheel, the mixing and smearing of color suits in this game can throw people for a loop at first. I still think I prefer Was Sticht and Njet, but Pala is definitely another trick-taker that I’ll gladly propose as an alternative when people start bringing out Tichu for the millionth time. Robinson Crusoe nabs the last spot in part because of the massive amount of stuff in the game that you don’t even see in any one game. There are so many event and invention cards and you only play with a small handful in each game, so there’s so much here still to be explored after just three plays. I also enjoy the seeding of events where the first half happens and then you have time to prepare for the thematically-related second half (whether it’s a scratch that could lead to infection or growling in the bushes that could lead to a tiger attack).
I tried lots of other new releases in 2012 besides the top ten discussed above. All in all I tried 49 new games and have divided them into three buckets – Good, Fair, and Poor. Somewhat randomly the buckets ended up approximately even with 16 Good, 15 Fair, and 18 Poor games. Rather than rank them, which is somewhat arbitrary, from here on out I’ll just group them in these categories.
- Riff Raff
- Tier auf Tier: Jetz geht’s rund
- Nieuw Amsterdam
The Good bucket obviously includes the top ten already discussed above as well as these other six games. In this grouping, you’ve got 3 very light games and 3 heavier German-style games. Of the light games, Riff Raff is a fun stacking dexterity game, the new Tier auf Tier is an entertaining variation on a classic, and Coup is a good mechanism for determining which of your friends are good liars. Hint: I am not, and am therefore eliminated from Coup remarkably quickly. The 3 heavier games are all interesting and are games I could easily see being favorites of others, but didn’t quite make it into my top slots for the year.
- Il Vecchio
- Saint Malo
- Terra Mystica
- Great Zimbabwe
- Goblins Inc.
- Ubongo Trigo
- Love Letter
- Santa Cruz
- 5 vor 12
Lots of Fair games released in 2012. My thinking behind these three buckets is essentially that I’ll seek out opportunities to play Good games, whereas I’ll mostly agree to play Fair games when others propose them, and I’ll generally try to avoid playing Poor games. Il Vecchio was a borderline choice and could definitely be Good, but I really can’t make up my mind about it after a couple plays. There are some interesting things going on there, but whether it has staying power and multiple viable paths remains to be seen. Lighter games like Love Letter and FlowerFall are certainly fun, but hard to really care too much one way or the other. Heavier games like Edo, Terra Mystica, and Great Zimbabwe are all solid designs, but take too much time when there are already so many great long games out there and such limited time to play them all.
Some games fall into this bucket because there’s already something else I’d usually rather play instead, like regular Ubongo or Ubongo Das Duell instead of Ubongo Trigo, Galaxy Trucker instead of Goblins Inc., Jaipur or Biblios instead of Morels, or Mosaix instead of Saint Malo. With a back catalog of so many games released in recent years, it’s harder and harder for a new game to overcome that barrier to entry and enter any sort of prolonged rotation.
- Wanzen Tanzen
- Wurfel Bohnanza
- Zooloretto Wurfelspiel
- Palaces of Carrara
- Al Rashid
- Among the Stars
- Monster Factory
- Antike Duellum
Lastly we come to the Poor games, or in Opinionated Gamers parlance, the games that are “not for me.” In many cases that’s really true because I could see most of these being for someone else, just not me. That’s certainly the case with Spellbound, CO2, Wanzen Tanzen, and others. For instance, if you want a cooperative deckbuilding game then Spellbound is for you; if you don’t mind a lack of control in your heavier games then try out CO2; and if you tend to like dice games then take Wanzen Tanzen for a spin. Some of the others in this bucket are hard to see being for anyone, particularly Swordfish, Antike Duellum, and Urbanization, but I suppose these could be enjoyed by someone out there. Then there are lots of games that might have been interesting in the late 1990s, like Palaces of Carrara, Among the Stars, or Africana. The world has moved on, while some game design apparently has not.
That’s where 2012 stands in my estimation in terms of new releases. Several good light, middle-weight, and heavier games. Nothing has yet emerged to rival any all-time favorites, but there are certainly a few that I hope to get to the table many more times in the years to come, whether that’s a thoughtful table with a few players enjoying something like Keyflower or Myrmes, or a raucous table with lots of people playing something like Pix or The Resistance: Avalon. Feel free to share your favorite 2012 releases in the comments or to rebuke me for my treatment of (or overlooking of) your precious.