2012 Retrospective – New Releases

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.

The Best

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:

  1. Keyflower
  2. Ginkgopolis
  3. Myrmes
  4. Mice & Mystics
  5. Pix
  6. Escape: Curse of the Temple
  7. The Resistance: Avalon
  8. Seasons
  9. Pala
  10. 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.   KeyflowerGinkgopolis 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 Pixdraw.  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 Palakept 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).

The Rest

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.

Good

  • Suburbia
  • Riff Raff
  • Tzolk’in
  • Tier auf Tier: Jetz geht’s rund
  • Nieuw Amsterdam
  • Coup

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.

Fair

  • Il Vecchio
  • Saint Malo
  • Terra Mystica
  • Great Zimbabwe
  • Goblins Inc.
  • Copycat
  • Morels
  • Edo
  • Ubongo Trigo
  • Love Letter
  • FlowerFall
  • Santa Cruz
  • 5 vor 12
  • Milestones
  • Tokaido

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 EdoVecchio 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.

Poor

  • CO2
  • Spellbound
  • Wanzen Tanzen
  • Libertalia
  • Africana
  • Wurfel Bohnanza
  • Zooloretto Wurfelspiel
  • Palaces of Carrara
  • 1969
  • Al Rashid
  • Among the Stars
  • Monster Factory
  • Tweeeet
  • OddVille
  • P.I.
  • Swordfish
  • Antike Duellum
  • Urbanization

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.

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9 Responses to 2012 Retrospective – New Releases

  1. > if you don’t mind a lack of control in your heavier games then try out CO2

    There’s nearly zero randomness/chaos in CO2. If you think you have lack of control, I think it’s just a mismatch between what you think you should be in control of, and what the game thinks you should be in control of. The projects you propose are /not/ your own. You don’t control them. What you do control are the incentive structures being made available to other players. That and your personal money/tech and expertise choices. My only beef (which I’ve written about on BGG) is the tie break rules on expertise.

  2. huzonfirst says:

    It’s still a lack of control, Curt. Chaos is the inability to control your own destiny in a game, whether it be from random elements or the actions of your opponents. You might as well say that there’s no lack of control in 7-player Citadels and if you took that position, my friend, we might come to blows! :-)

    What people like Tom and I MIGHT be guilty of is asking the game to be something it isn’t, a desire that I’ve sometimes accused others of with various games. But since being able to deterministically build structures, given enough time and preparation, is a given in most designs, I think the feeling is understandable. Enough people have mentioned the incentive structure in CO2 (and the game’s rating is sufficiently high) that I assume they’re seeing something that we absolutely do not. However, such a structure seems to be very subtle, at least compared to a game like Puerto Rico, where it’s also important to be able to count on what your opponents will do (and it isn’t that hard to influence their actions). Even if the structure was more apparent to me, I’m not sure it would dramatically change my mind about the game. I’m usually not too fond of titles where you play the players, not the game, particularly since such games tend to be very fragile, in my experience. But in the case of CO2, that wasn’t the issue; we simply didn’t see any reliable way of influencing our opponents, so the whole last half of the game felt like a crap shoot.

  3. Ben (chally) says:

    I’ve had this conversation with Tom before, but I agree with Curt that Tom (and perhaps Larry, also) is seeking something different from the game that what it wants to offer. However, I also think it’s understandable given Tom’s taste in games.

    Tom’s particular control complaint invariably begins with, “If I want to construct a plant of type X, there is no action I can take that guarantees me the ability to construct a plant of type X” (assuming a 3+ player game). For me, that’s precisely the point of playing CO2: you don’t get to dictate the terms of your engagement with other players, and the resulting game is dynamic, engaging, and thought-provoking. By contrast, I often feel a lack of “control” when I play Tom’s preferred Eurogames because they permit Tom to do whatever he sets his mind to without giving me much say in the matter (I strongly prefer games that give me the ability to either thwart or manipulate the incentives of my opponents, so that I have some control over *their* path and/or outcome).

    I don’t think there is a right or a wrong here. We have all have peculiar gaming preferences. In this case, it seems that Tom’s preference for what he’d like to do in the game differed from the designer’s vision of what Tom should be allowed to do. Once we understand Tom’s tastes, I think that “lack of control” is reasonable way for him to express that discordance.

  4. > still a lack of control, Curt. Chaos is the inability to control your own destiny in a game, whether it be from random elements or the actions of your opponents.

    No, I disagree with that definition, if by “you” you mean all players. Chess is not chaotic, whether or not I happen to be able to control my destiny or not. Chaos is stuff that’s unpredictable. E.g. simultaneous action/role selection, blind bidding, information that gets revealed to some players but not all, arbitrary target of action/event resolution, etc. Given low randomness, no (new) hidden information, the game is certainly not chaotic. It may /appear/ that way if the strategy is opaque to a player, however.

    > But since being able to deterministically build structures, given enough time and preparation, is a given in most designs, I think the feeling is understandable.

    I disagree that it’s a given in most games. Many games see players competing to build a common pool of stuff (e.g. Le Havre). The difference here is the 3 stages of construction, only the final one being actually /owned/ by a player. But there are rewards for advances stages, so it’s simply wrong to build a mental model of owning any plant before it’s fully constructed.

    > Enough people have mentioned the incentive structure in CO2 (and the game’s rating is sufficiently high) that I assume they’re seeing something that we absolutely do not. However, such a structure seems to be very subtle, …

    That’s what’s so good about it.

    > Even if the structure was more apparent to me, I’m not sure it would dramatically change my mind about the game. I’m usually not too fond of titles where you play the players, not the game…

    If the structure were more apparent, it /would/ change my mind about the game… for the worse. But yeah, if you prefer games where other players can’t influence your plans, then this game won’t be for you. It’s a high interaction game, on a a completely different dimension than the “attack opponent” dimension that most games use for high high interaction.

    > …we simply didn’t see any reliable way of influencing our opponents, so the whole last half of the game felt like a crap shoot.

    I suspect you simply haven’t played enough to see it. We saw the game playout very differently between the first couple games and subsequent games. As measured concretely by CEPs ending with a high price in early games, and a low price in later games.

  5. drasher25 says:

    I’d be interested to hear more about your disdain for Antike Duellum and Among the Stars.
    I am halfway through my first my first game of Antike Duellum on Yucata and am really digging it. It feels like a nice, tight civ/wargame.

    I backed Among the Stars on Indygogo because I thought the mix of card drafting and placement would make an interesting mix. Plus the art is draw-dropping!

  6. Tom Rosen says:

    I’ve been out of town for a few days, but this is an interesting discussion that you all have been having. I hear what Curt and Ben are saying about the game, but it doesn’t really gel with what I saw in the game. If what you say is true and I’m not supposed to have any control over whether or not I ever get to build plant X during the game, then why does the game provide a significant source of victory points to the first player that builds plants X, Y, and Z? Let’s say I happen to have built plant Y and plant Z during the first half of the game. Shouldn’t I try to build plant X during the second half of the game? The incentive structure of the game would seem to suggest so, but the mechanisms in the game make that a frustrating and futile affair. In a four-player game, I do not control whether I ever have the opportunity to build plant X. Alright, so you say that’s the way it should be, which is fine, but then I’m left wondering why the point reward system in the game is encouraging me to build something that I have no say over whether or not I build. I wanted to like the game, but I couldn’t get past the feeling of being buffeted about by the other players’ whims (and presumably the same happening to them). I think I need to try it with fewer than four players perhaps.

    • > If what you say is true and I’m not supposed to have any control over whether or not I ever get to build plant X during the game, then why does the game provide a significant source of victory points to the first player that builds plants X, Y, and Z?

      That’s a fair question, I guess. But I just seems to me that that’s the challenge. Everyone has to propose, install, or construct on their turn. So progress will happen at approximately the same rate, despite any player or player’s intentions. But it’s not always in players best interests to install or even construct a plant just because they can (duplicates of a type being a great example, especially duplicates in the same region–not to mention scientist issues). And since constructing requires costs that are publicly observable, you can know who would be able to construct if you happened to install, etc. So you can look ahead a bit. Especially if you factor in what people need to keep or take control of a region they’re in, which is very important. And the UN goals, which should /not/ be ignored until the last turn. But yes, it is the case that the last turn is mostly players trying to block others from completing what they need. In that sense the last turn is a decisive ramp-down from the previous turns.

      Certainly not every game is for everyone, but fwiw CO2 got requested by many players in my group, and saw back to back plays in a single evening, which is very rare in our group. To each his own.

    • Ben (chally) says:

      > If what you say is true and I’m not supposed to have any control over whether or not I ever get to build plant X during the game, then why does the game provide a significant source of victory points to the first player that builds plants X, Y, and Z?

      Again, I think this is the point.

      Some games permit you to do whatever you set your mind to, but makes the value of things very opaque. The challenge lies in figuring out what tasks are worth doing.

      Some games (like CO2) make the value of things very obvious, but make it very hard to accomplishing high-value things. There is no question where we want to go, the challenge is in figuring out how to get there from here.

      In CO2’s case, your ability to build plants X, Y, and Z depends entirely on what other players let you do. Likewise, your choices dictate what they can do. But your fate is not random, nor is it merely at the mercy of some other player’s arbitrary whim. The game makes it easy to see what other players (1) want to do, and (2) are capable of doing. By tracking your opponents’ incentives and capabilities, you should have a very strong idea of what (and when) you’ll be able to accomplish things, and which things benefit you more than others.

      That is also the point: like many economic games, CO2 is not about doing what most benefits you. It is about doing what benefits you *more* than it benefits others. That is why starting your thought process from “I want to build plant X” feels so foreign to me. We all want to build plant X. For precisely that reason, no one should be allowed to build plant X. So the question “what do I want to do?” is much less relevant to the question “what should I do on my turn?” than you seem willing to accept. But that relationship (or lack thereof) is precisely why I play games like CO2.

      In short, CO2 provides control over something you often don’t get to control (what your opponents can do), and is structured for players to proceed from that mindset.

  7. Tom Rosen says:

    No problem Drasher. I’m not sure I’d characterize it as disdain for those games, but more as a simple dislike.

    That’s interesting that you say you’re really digging Antike Duellum when you’re halfway through your first game because I was really digging Antike Duellum when I was halfway through my first game. In fact, there’s someone out there who thinks I love the game because when I was playing it with a friend at BGG.CON, someone walked by halfway through the game and asked us what we thought of it. We both said it was great and probably the best game of the convention. An hour later, we were wishing we could track that poor soul down and tell him how it all turned out.

    The first half of the game is really interesting, fascinating even. But in my experience, once both players get to around 6 points or so, the game starts dragging and then dragging even more and more and more. This happened the first time I played and I was stunned, so the next day, I tried it again with a different opponent, but the same thing happened. Of course I can’t say anything definitive after two plays, but it was so not good that I really don’t want to play again anymore. About two-thirds of the way through point-wise, it becomes extremely difficult to get any more points, the players enter a near stalemate, and getting 5 more cities, 3 more temples, or what have you becomes a matter of slowly and painstakingly edging out your opponent with marginally more efficient resource gathering.

    Please report back on your game though because maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m sure if the players are mismatched then the game could quickly tip one way or the other, but with reasonably matched players, it seems to breakdown once the readily obtainable points are gone and both players are a few points from ending the game.

    As for Among the Stars, it’s a 7 Wonders rip-off, in the same way that we saw so many Dominion rip-offs after its release. There are so many elements that unnecessarily mirror 7 Wonders that I lost all respect for it. I don’t mind if a game takes the central mechanism from 7 Wonders or Dominion for that matter, but in doing so, the starting point for the rest of the game should not be each and every detail of the original, but I should hope it’s to change everything else up to the extent possible. I realize it added a spatial element to the card play, which is all well and good, but wasn’t enough for me personally. I hope you enjoy it, but as someone who didn’t even particularly like 7 Wonders in the first place, Among the Stars was really not destined to be a game for me.

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