2012 Retrospective – Table Time

While 2012 was a year filled with many new releases of all shapes and sizes, there was also time to play plenty of older titles as well.  Yesterday I detailed my experience with the swath of new games released into the world over the past year, and today I’m back to discuss my experience with the games that saw the most table time throughout the year.  Some of these are in fact new releases that were also mentioned yesterday, but more of them are older games, with varying levels of oldness of course.  The top ten games that saw table time in 2012 were:

  1. Netrunner
  2. Innovation
  3. Summoner Wars
  4. Neuroshima Hex
  5. Through the Ages
  6. War of the Ring
  7. Kissenschlacht
  8. Geistesblitz
  9. Seasons
  10. Risk Legacy & Tournay

Card games dominated the year like years past, with the trifecta of Netrunner, Innovation, and Summoner Wars leading the way.  Topping the charts was Netrunner with a combined 67 plays, including 24 of the older Wizards of the Coast version and 43 of the newer Fantasy Flight version.  I’d never actually played Netrunner until 2010 when a friend introduced me to it, but quickly tracked down a box of starter decks and have since played over 100 times.  I wasn’t sure if I would come around to the FFG version, being generally wary of change (and living card games), but I have slowly warmed to it.  I heartily approve of the change to the trace mechanism; anything that removes blind bidding is a big plus in my book.  I have also enjoyed the addition of faction abilities, stronger upgrade cards, and most of the new artwork.  On the other hand, the FFG core set is in desperate need of more variability, especially agenda cards to allow the corporation some flexibility there, and ideally more icebreakers to give the runner some actual options.  The expansions are obviously coming quickly, so we’ll see how those all pan out in 2013.  One downside of Netrunner (and Summoner Wars) as compared to Neuroshima Hex is that while they all take an average of around 30 minutes, the former two are much more variable, ranging from around 10 to 60 minutes, while the latter is a much more reliable 30 minutes.  Nevertheless, they’ve all been great enough to see lots of table time this year.

Innovation is another game that I came to late.  I didn’t get a copy until this past spring, but over the spring and summer quickly racked up the plays, mostly two-player, and ended the year with 30 plays.  It’s far from a game for everyone, with it’s chaotic swings and off-putting graphic design.  But if you can get past these barriers to entry, you’ll find a truly interesting and quick civilization-themed game.  There are challenging decisions to be made and while the result is not entirely in your hands due to the crazy card combinations that can emerge from game to game, you’ll still wrestle with whether to play this card, use that card, or draw on each turn.  Strangely a different card seems broken in each game, making for rather diverse experiences and situational dependencies.  Summoner Wars  rounds out the top three for the year in table time with 24 face-to-face plays, not to mention over 100 iOS plays.  I particularly enjoyed the release of the Filth and Mercenaries faction decks in 2012, which are two especially fun decks to play or play against.  The mutations of the Filth and the drawing power of the Mercenaries mix things up and add even more impressive variability to an already immensely variable universe.  Summoner Wars is one of those games that I almost never want to play just once, which is one reason it racks up so many plays as it rarely comes off the shelf for just a single play.

In a three-way tie for fourth are Neuroshima Hex, Through the Ages, and War of the Ring, each with 16 plays in fact.  Neuroshima Hex is actually a game that I discovered through iOS and only later purchased in physical form to try my hand against humans rather than just the A.I.  It reminds me of Summoner Wars with its numerous different armies and possible match-ups, and I can never decide which I like better.  Many folks that I introduce the two games to have a strong preference for one or the other and I suppose I can understand why, but for me they’re parallel instances of great game design and I’ll usually be happy to play either.  The next two games actually saw the most table time given their long play times, although with experience I’ve managed to get them down to a more reasonable 2-3 hours for the most part.  Through the Ages currently stands as my favorite game, having surpassed previous holders of that title in Tigris & Euphrates and El Grande.  With two players and 150 minutes, it’s hard to imagine a better game to spend your time with, although War of the Ring is beginning to give it a run for its money.  I’ve been loving the 2nd edition of War of the Ring, with its handful of clever and seemingly perfect adjustments to an already great game.  For a thematic and thrilling experience, you can’t do better than this, and the newest expansion is promising after my first foray with it.  The new characters and action dice look like they’ll make for a more open and variable game, without introducing too much complexity into an already intimidating game.  I’ve introduced this game to many new players over the past year and have never gotten tired of teaching its intricacies and showing people what can be accomplished with dice, armies, event cards, and a map when woven together with such care and precision.

The next two are a different sort of game entirely, with Kissenschlacht at 15 plays and Geistesblitz at 14 plays.  Kissenschlacht is a children’s dexterity game of flinging small pillows into the game box with mini-catapults and trying to knock opponent’s figures off pedestals at the same time.  Heresy of all heresies, I think it may be up there with Tier auf Tier and Gulo Gulo in the pantheon of German children’s games.  Geistesblitz is Jungle Speed meets Set.  It’s speed pattern recognition at its finest.  The Geistesblitz 2.0 expansion ratchets things up perfectly for those experienced with the base game by making a frenetic and harried experience the exact right amount more frenetic and harried.  I always find myself looking for opportunities to play Geistesblitz.

Rounding out the top ten are Seasons, Risk Legacy, and Tournay.  Seasons came in at 14 plays and has already been discussed in both my Essen First Impressions and my 2012 Retrospective on New Releases, so I don’t think I really have anything more to add here.  Risk Legacy was fantastic fun.  I talked about it a bit in my 2011 Retrospective, where it was one of my potential games of the year.  I’ve still never made up my mind whether Risk Legacy or the Summoner Wars: Master Set was my game of the year for 2011, so I’m content to continue considering it a tie for all intents and purposes.  I played Risk Legacy 15 times overall (5 times in 2011 and 10 times in 2012) with the same group of five people and, in my estimation, it got better and better over time.  Certain packets added rules and complexity that I thought significantly improved the game.  I’ve since purchased another copy of the game because I think it will be very worthwhile and enjoyable to play through the campaign again from the beginning.  It will be interesting to see how the two boards ultimately turn out differently in the end.  I realize buying the same game again to play again is an odd and slightly disturbing concept for board games, but the innovation and enjoyment here merit it without question for me.  Tournay is a completely different experience but ties with Risk Legacy for 10 plays each.  I haven’t enjoyed tableau building card games in the past like Race for the Galaxy, but Tournay is such an interesting little game that I’ve had fun with it each time it’s hit the table for a solid 45 minute experience or so.  I should note that the game is nothing like Troyes whatsoever, so while I dislike Troyes, I really like Tournay, and while one of my friends enjoys Troyes, he seems to despise Tournay.  Know going in that it’s an entirely different game, for better or worse.  Better for me and I’ll be happy to play it 10 more times in 2013 if I have the chance.

Twelve Months of Gaming

In twelve months I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play much more than those top ten games.  I’ll briefly touch on the other games that saw between five and nine plays:

  • 9 – Descent: Journeys in the Dark
  • 8 – Eclipse, Escape, King of Tokyo, and Loopin’ Louie
  • 7 – Crokinole, Keyflower, Rapa Nui, and The Resistance
  • 6 – Dixit, Mice & Mystics, Pala, Tichu, and Village
  • 5 – Friday, Pix, Uluru, Walnut Grove, and Yggdrasil

The nine plays of Descent were actually all in a single weekend with a friend that was visiting from out of town and had just acquired the 2nd edition.  We played through the entire campaign over the course of three fun-filled, action-packed days.  Fortunately I have two game tables, so was able to leave Descent setup on one, so we could alternate playing a scenario of that with playing shorter card games like Netrunner, Innovation, and Tournay on the other table.  I really enjoyed these nine plays of Descent and found the 2nd edition changes really interesting.  I definitely liked how the scenarios were not simply about killing all of the opposing forces, but had specific and varied objectives instead.  Some of the scenarios felt particularly inspired and entertaining as a result.  Using the conversion kit and all of the 1st edition monsters seemed to give the overlord an edge, but the monster variability would seem potentially too limited with just the 2nd edition monsters.

Coming in at 8 plays were three fast and fun games – Escape, King of Tokyo, and Loopin’ Louie – and one slower but still fun game – Eclipse.  I finally picked up a copy of Eclipse after missing the original release and the June reprint which also sold out on pre-orders.  Better late than never though and now I’m looking forward to the Rise of the Ancients expansion, including the new races and non-player character ships to fight.  King of Tokyo is still the Platonic ideal of a dice game, Loopin’ Louie is as always one of the best children’s dexterity games, and Escape is ten minutes of pure, unadulterated, adrenalin-filled crazy.  Escape was my go-to game at BGG.CON with six plays at the convention alone.

Next up is the classic Crokinole, with a somewhat disappointing mere 7 plays, which will hopefully go back up next year to the 20-30 plays of years past.  But it’s all relative, 7 plays was a great amount to reach for Keyflower, Rapa Nui, and The Resistance.  Keyflower is currently my favorite new release, just edging out Ginkgopolis and Myrmes, although my copies of those two are still on pre-order so things are still subject to change.  Keyflower is remarkably pleasant to play and the challenge of prioritizing your auction and action selections does not seem to be getting stale anytime soon.  Rapa Nui is a great little stock game by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede, who proves he can in fact still design things besides Carcassonne expansions thankfully.  The Resistance improves on Werewolf in all the right ways and in the process turns an amusing social activity into a real game worth pulling out with the right crowd.

The rest of the mix includes games of all shapes and sizes.  New-fangled party games like Dixit and Pix are a pleasure to bring to the table when you’ve got a larger crowd (especially Dixit Odyssey when you’ve got more than six people), although Pix requires making English cards unless and until an English version is finally released.  Then there are classic German-style games like Village and Walnut Grove that provide a relatively familiar experience.  Cooperative games are all the rage since Pandemic and Ghost Stories took Lord of the Rings and Shadows over Camelot to a whole new level in 2008, and now Mice & Mystics and Yggdrasil are two solid additions to the pantheon.  Pala is a clever new trick-taking game, Friday is a clever new solitaire game, and Uluru is just clever.  I’d love to play Uluru even more but it’s not a game for everyone.  It’s too reminiscent of the law school entrance exam for some I can understand, but it’s a thoroughly fun experience for folks that get a kick out of speed logic puzzles.

Coming in just under the wire with four plays were lots of other great games: Antiquity, City Tycoon, Coup, Evo, Forbidden Island, Goblins Inc., Le Havre, Jungle Smart, Morels, Mr. Jack, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, and Toc Toc Woodman.  I’d love to get in even more Antiquity next year, but four plays is not too shabby of course for this behemoth.  Ticket to Ride saw a bit of a resurgence in plays this year with the addition of the excellent Team Asia map expansion.

Those are the games that saw significant table time in 2012.  The new releases are fun to rate and rank, but ultimately it comes down to what’s hitting the table year in and year out.  This year there were a few new games that cracked into that echelon of notable repeat plays, like Keyflower, Seasons, Mice & Mystics, and Pix, but mostly it was games of a slightly older vintage that saw the most play.  I’m particularly glad to have had the chance to gain more experience with both shorter games like Summoner Wars and Neuroshima Hex, and also longer, more involved games like Through the Ages and War of the Ring.  A few favorites from my Best for any Crowd are sadly missing in action, particularly Twilight Struggle, San Marco, Java, Imperial, Galaxy Trucker, Die Macher, and El Grande.  I’ll have to make an effort to get those seven games to the table more next year, but ultimately there are just too many great games, which is truly a very nice problem to have.

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2 Responses to 2012 Retrospective – Table Time

  1. Ben (chally) says:

    I would be inclined to post something similar. But since I played most of these same games with Tom, I fear both that it would be redundant and also that it would mislead people into believing that I’m some sort of Kissenschlact fanatic.

  2. Tom says:

    … says the man who has actually contemplated the strategic implications of catapult positioning in Kissenschlacht!

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