From time to time, we have guest writers here on the blog… Today, we have a nice list from Stephen Glenn, the designer of the SdJ-nominated Balloon Cup. He wanted to write about his favorite games from last year.
My Top 10 Games of 2013
by Stephen Glenn
I’ll be honest, it hasn’t occurred to me to put together a list of Top 10 Games of the Year in quite some time. Perhaps I’m getting old, grumpy and picky, but these days it’s rare for me to get overly excited about five games a year. Yes, this is still a wonderful hobby, but more and more I find myself reminiscing about the games that were released during my personal Golden Age (1995-2004) and being less excited about the new and upcoming titles.
Having said all of that, 2013 came as quite a surprise. As the months passed I found myself being blown away by so many great games. I checked my ratings at BGG and, indeed, I haven’t seen a year that made me this happy since 2008. That was the year that brought us Dominion, Combat Commander, and Say Anything, among others. Before that you would have had to go back to the late 90’s to find a year that pleased me as much.
Note the word ‘me’ in that last sentence. This list of games is deeply personal. I don’t mean to suggest that After years of mediocrity, the gaming world finally righted itself in 2013 and started making great games again. Not at all. If you think 2011 was the greatest year in board gaming history, I’m more than happy for you. Go play your copy of Eclipse and I’ll watch you from a distance, sitting here in the corner, gently stroking my worn copy of Euphrat & Tigris.
Also, please do not mistake this for A List Of Games That You Should Love. I care about you, truly, but again, this list is about my two favorite subjects: Games and Me. I’m not trying to provide you with useful information about what games to buy. Well, unless you’re me, in which case, you couldn’t have found a more helpful list.
Okay, before we get started, there’s a little more ado to consider. Here are five games of 2013 that I didn’t get to play but (a) would have liked to, and (b) might have made my list if I had. In alphabetical order:
The Duke: I’m a major Navia Dratp fan, and The Duke looks like it was almost certainly inspired by that fine game.
Forbidden Desert: I played Forbidden Island just recently, after having found a very nice copy in a thrift store. I found I enjoyed it much more than Pandemic. So if the Desert is as good as or better than the Island, we might have had a contender.
Mascarade: Another Faidutti hidden-role game with bluffing. Those are always fun.
Sushi Go: Fairy Tale meets It’s Mine. They fall in love. Get married. Nine months later Sushi Go is born. Cute kid.
Two Rooms and a Boom: This looks like something a veteran Werewolf player (ie, myself) could be interested in.
Now let’s get to my Top 10 Games of 2013.
10. Gearworlds: The Borderlands
I’ll start off by being a big cheater. This is, for all practical purposes, a straight reprint of the 1982 original, Borderlands. Fantasy Flight Games announced this re-release back in 2007 and seemingly forgot about it. When they finally got around to shipping it, they did so with a horrific rulebook that seemed dedicated to making even the simplest instruction a maze of words. You need breadcrumbs to get through this thing. Truly a shame, because the game is outstanding and deserves to be played. By the Eon team that brought us Cosmic Encounter and Dune, Gearworlds is Diplomacy-meets-Catan and it’s as good as that sounds.
Castellan is a brilliant two (or four) player abstract about building castle walls. I was fortunate enough to playtest this many years ago and I’m thoroughly delighted that it was finally published. Beau Beckett is one of the best designers with whom you may not be familiar, but he’s starting to make a name for himself. He even shows up again later in this list.
8. Coal Baron
Coal Baron is a Kramer/Kiesling title from R&R games. It has worker placement combined with a clever action point system that has you moving your elevator up and down your mine shaft in search of valuable coal. I’m not a huge fan of the worker placement genre, but Coal Baron does everything quick and right. Easily my most played game at the recent Gathering of Friends.
I consider myself a Tichu fan. However, what I don’t love about the game is having to relearn it every time I go months or weeks without playing it. It’s also not a game I can bring out with family or casual gamers. Enter Clubs, designed by Dominic Crapuchettes from NorthStar Games, which retains everything I love about Tichu and eliminates the aforementioned problems. I’ll most certainly still play Tichu, but I’ll be playing Clubs a lot more.
6. Whacky Wit
Whacky Wit is Pac Man. There, I said it. But imagine two-player Pac Man played on a massive contraption of a board with hundreds of magnetic Pac-dots that make a hugely satisfying WHAAAPPP! every time you reset them for a new game. Now imagine paying $600 for a copy. Now imagine a divorce lawyer.
5. The Rise of Augustus
Formerly, just Augustus, although I’m not versed in the reasons for the name change. Many have taken to referring to Augustus as “gamer bingo” and I’ve grown tired and bored with trying to challenge that characterization. However you describe it, it’s certainly very neat and I was 100% positive this was going to walk away with last year’s Spiel Des Jahres. Well, at least I wasn’t the only one shocked.
4. BattleLore 2nd Edition
No one could reasonably call me a fanboy of the Commands and Colors system. I enjoyed Battle Cry well enough, although I eventually moved on to Memoir ’44 just because I prefer the WW2 theme over the Civil War. Even the original BattleLore system didn’t enthrall me. I played it once with a friend and found it kinda clumsy. More than once I tried to attack my own guys. So why has 2nd edition captured my imagination in such a big way? It’s hard to say. I believe I started reading about it not long after my son and I tried (and failed) to develop an appreciation for Mage Wars. Ultimately, that game proved too heavy and intense for us. BattleLore 2e looked like a similar type of game that we could more easily handle, and we loved it immediately. Expansions, please, FFG.
Through the Ages for people who can’t handle Through the Ages? Guilty! Although the games are quite similar, Nations is far smoother and streamlined. I always wanted to love TtA and I gave it multiple chances. But I was never able to completely grok the system and it was sadly traded away. Now Nations has come along and has masterfully shaved down all the pointy edges of its predecessor.
2. 1775: Rebellion
When Beau Beckett and Jeph Stahl brought 1812: The Invasion of Canada to Protospiel several years ago, I knew I was seeing something new and different. There are those who will debate whether it is a true wargame and there are those, like me, who could care less. The game is terrific fun and highly original. 1775: Rebellion is the sequel (?) to that game and is, arguably, even better than the original. A truly fantastic system that I hope will appear in many future games.
1. Tash Kalar: Arena of Legends
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. The box cover of Tash Kalar depicts a monstrous Thing-like creature facing off against a spear-wielding, horse-like creature in epic, deadly combat. This, my friends, is a lie. The game in the box has precious little to do with the art on its cover. And yet, the game is a brilliant masterwork of Vlaada Chvatil. Tash Kalar is almost purely abstract, involving making patterns on a (woefully underproduced) checkerboard with (woefully underproduced) “stones”. I don’t want to delve too deeply into the cost vs. components debate, but let’s just say at its price, I would have been neither shocked nor disappointed to see much higher quality components. The game absolutely deserves them. Still, if we’re only discussing gameplay, Tash Kalar is easily worth every penny. Be forewarned, it’s abstract and it’s a thinker. You will stare at the board. You will stare at your cards. Back and forth repeatedly until your head allows you to finally place a stone on the board. And that’s only the first half of your turn. Repeated play eases things considerably as you become more familiar with the cards, but this is never going to be a light or casual game. In fact, even though the box says it plays with 2-4, I personally consider this a TWO PLAYER ONLY game. And as such, it’s probably the most important game I’ve added to my collection since Dominion. In my world, that’s saying something.
Thanks for reading, everyone. If I ever experience another year like 2013, I’ll be happy to write another Top 10 list. Until then, go play.