It’s that time of year again, when we take a look back and do lots of Top game lists, but this year’s end is a bit special, it’s the end of the decade. A decade that started with 7 Wonders, Hanabi & Forbidden Island, and is ending with the likes of Die Crew, Wingspan & Res Arcana. There were lots of hits, even more misses and a lot of games over the decade that got lost in the continuous shuffle. So while a lot of outlets are going to give you their favorites of each year of the decade, we thought it may be a fun idea/experiment to take a look at some titles that have held the interest of folks here in The Opinionated Gamers. So for the next few weeks we’re going to take a look at these games and share our love of some of these off the radar titles. Feel free to participate in the comments and share your thoughts on games that we’ve overlooked.
Voluspa BGG Rank 1,908 (Brandon K)
Abstract tile laying with a Norse theme, this was kind of a limited appeal game from the word go, but in a year that also gave us my number two or three game of all time, Ginkopolis, I think this was the game that I talked about more and tried to introduce to more people. Every tile that you place affects something else in the game, creating this constant evolution of a game. It feels part Qwirkle with its limitations on what can be placed in rows but because of that theme and the individual tile powers it feels wholly unique. Scott Caputo designed a wonderfully interactive game that didn’t get nearly enough attention.
Like Dice BGG Rank 12,983 (James Nathan)
Like Dice is a real-time arithmetic game. Well, just adding. Doesn’t that sound exciting? (It’s one of my favorite board game sub-genres, and if you’re thinking “how many could there be?”, the e-mail thread where I’m discussing that with some folks is up to 7 titles.)
I enjoy real-time games, but there’s a dearth of handicapping mechanisms to make them appropriate to most audiences, in my opinion. How would such a thing work anyway? How could you know and fine tune what each players’ handicap would be?
Just tie it into points and game play.
The game comes with 2 decks of cards, a deck that shows 2 specific faces from colored six-sided dice, and a deck that shows what numbers you should add. All 5s and all purple dice, for instance. The players then count the sum, as quickly as they can, in their heads, and shout the number. The first player to correctly announce the sum takes one of the cards as a point in front of them. The rub is that from now on, that player must include that card in their sum. Let’s say the next card is the lowest valued yellow and all red dice; now you’re considering not only the two cards in the center of the table, but any cards in front of you from previous rounds. Everyone’s correct answers will be different.
It’s a hoot.
This is not my favorite game of the year, or my favorite unheralded game of the year, but it’s my favorite lesser-known one that I haven’t talked about much, if at all, before.
Circus Grandioso BGG Rank 13,249 (Joe Huber)
Once again, I’m simply going with my favorite game of the year – as many of my favorites are not terribly well known. I won Circus Grandioso in a Geekgold auction on BGG from Hilko Drude, and gave it a try knowing very little about the game. The game _looked_ delightful – and to my surprise, it _was_ delightful; a clever game with a memory element but lots more to consider as well. For me, memory games work well when they provide a _benefit_ to players who remember things correctly, and don’t punish players for someone else mis-remembering. Circus Grandioso manages this nicely.
Jonathan F. (more to follow) I am torn – 2012 was an excellent year for 2p games with Targi, All Creatures Big & Small, Le Havre: Inland Port, and Isla Tetra 2. More popular multi-player games included Ginkgopolis and Snowdonia, so I’ll go with The Great Zimbabwe. Everytime I play it, I enjoy it, then fast forward ahead to the next game and I have forgotten the rules and mess up the primary/secondary distance aspect again.
Septikon: Uranium Wars BGG Rank 8074 (Mark Jackson)
I originally reviewed this in 2013 (when Russian copies began reaching the U.S.) – you can read my review right here – and was pleased when the Kickstarter enabled English copies to exist. Sadly, it never got the attention it deserved as an one-of-a-kind design.
Here’s what I said back then:
“Some of you are barely hanging on now – your “but I don’t like wargames!” reflex alarm is blaring. Maybe it would help you to think of Septikon – Uranium Wars as a resource & opportunity management game… albeit with a whole lot of damage & destruction. Or maybe you could think of it as a worker placement game – if your workers were loyal & mindlessly obedient clones whose entire mission was to pummel the opposing space station into submission.
“OK, it’s a war game.”
Also considered for my 2012 pick: Wurfel Bohnanza
New Amsterdam – BGG Rank 1493 (Larry)
Europeans love their history and base many a game upon it. However, when the historical subject is outside of Europe, what you’ll often see is cartoon history, with stereotypes a’plenty. Thus, when American history is portrayed, it’s often with rootin’ tootin’ cowboys and very non-P.C. Native Americans. Fortunately, the designer of New Amsterdam is Jeff Allers and not only did Jeff live in the U.S. for many years before setting up shop in Germany, but, as his brilliant Postcards from Berlin articles showed, he is incisively and sympathetically aware of many different cultures. So it’s not surprising that this design based on the early Dutch settlement in the New World is a balanced and authentic one that is refreshingly free of stereotypes.
Of course, none of that matters if the game isn’t any good, but fortunately, New Amsterdam is a meaty and excellently designed title. All of the actions are highly interrelated, so that it’s a real balancing act trying to accomplish all you need to do. The auction for action tokens (the tokens are randomly distributed in a grid each round and you bid for which row you get to use) is very innovative and leads to many tough decisions. There are several different paths to victory and all of them are well balanced. This is an intense game where you need to play your best in order to succeed. It was well regarded when it first came out, but the passage of time has blurred the impact of lots of good games and New Amsterdam is one of them. But the game has aged very well and it’s one I’d happily play today.
Oddville BGG Rank 1534 (Jonathan F.)
2012 was a down year for games in general – My two favorites were 2p games, Targi and All Creatures Big & Small. I am thrilled Targi is getting its expansion published in English in 2020. Since neither of those are unsung, I picked Oddville as my below the radar pick – it is a small game with an unusual set of rules and a card placement system that is similar to a tile laying aspect. In addition, your building is constrained by not being able to go above the ‘wall’ at the top.
Other games mentioned on the OG Forums for 2012: Karnag, Myrmes, and Polis: Fight the Hegemony.
Sanssouci BGG Rank 1,386 (Brandon K)
A Euro styled game from designer Michael Kiesling about creating gardens at the Sanssouci Palace through card play and tile placement. There is a central board with the tiles that are available, the color section that the tiles are on determines when you can take them by playing cards that coordinate both in color and in tile type. This play will also tell you where you can place the tile on your garden board. In order to gain points you have to move the nobles down paths that are created by the tile placement. Some of the design aesthetic was taken and used in the new Haba release Miyabi, but other than aesthetics, that one plays entirely differently and not as fun for us. I love the planning involved here in trying to score the best moving the nobles down the paths, along with the card play. I believe there is a new version coming of Sanssouci, do yourself a favor and try it out if you haven’t already.
Birth BGG Rank 10,686 (James Nathan)
This is a game about…the big bang, and is likely my favorite roll and move game.
It is a title that got some exposure in limited circles when the 2nd edition came out, as this was during a “subscription” service that an individual in Japan was offering where they would mail you a grab bag mystery box a few times throughout the year with various titles.
It’s a roll and move game where you make all of your rolls at the start of the game and will then decide what order to use them in.
Each player has 1 pawn and on their turn will choose one of their dice and move their pawn that many spaces. If you would land on another pawn, move that die face again.
The board is divided into 5 sections, and once your pawn lands, place the die you used in that section, and each section is numbered (1, 2, 3, 5, 8).
The copy I have comes with 4 boards and there are multiple levels of variants in the rules, so some things I say can vary, but in general, the game has 2 types of scoring. Firstly, each die will score a number of points equal to the number printed in the section. Secondly, compare who has the most die in a section, and that player will earn a number of points equal to the sum of their dice.
There are also some shenanigans to be had with placing die of the same value in a section. In the base rules, if you attempt to place a die in a sector that already has at least one die of that face, all die from that section with that face are re-rolled and then placed in the section. In a variant, any matching die faces are moved by the active player to an adjacent sector.
(As is likely to be expected, the 8 section is harder to land in than the 1.)
This is not my favorite game of the year, or my favorite unheralded game of the year, but it’s my favorite lesser-known one that I haven’t talked about much, if at all, before. (Though I acquired a copy a few days ago, so I may end up playing enough to review it later this year.)
The King of Frontier BGG Rank 4,567 (Joe Huber)
This is one of just two years I have to go with a game other than my favorite, to match the “unheralded” requirement.
Back in 2012, Friedemann Friese started a series of geeklists – “the battle of the overlooked games”. In 2012, I suggested Schützenfest, which made it to the third round. In 2013, I put forward Guild, which was the runner-up. In 2014, I nominated The King of Frontier, which – well, we’ll never know. The contest never made it past the second round – which The King of Frontier was clearly going to advance from. Fortunately, a lot more folks have had the chance to play the game since; it’s up to 217 ratings (it had to have fewer than 30 to be in the contest). Unfortunately, when it was finally brought out in a more readily available edition, it was done so by Queen, who changed the delightful artwork from Aya, and the delightful rules from Shun, leaving – something that just made me wish I was playing The King of Frontier. Fortunately, I can, and do, still play the game; I’ve played it 68 times, including 33 since the start of 2017. It’s a fast game with some depth to it, and wildly different arcs depending upon the buildings in the game and the way tiles come out.
Quantum BGG Rank 426 (Mark Jackson)
This fast-moving game of space conquest works like a charm with 2, 3, or 4 players, thanks to the modular boards. It’s also possible to create a wide variety of powerful “combos” by pairing technology cards with inherent ship powers (and each other!) to create wild new ways to mess with your opponents and/or out-race them to the win. The cards seem overpowered at first glance – but since every card is at that level, it balances out well and keeps the game humming along at a lightning pace.
And it’s a really good looking game, too. Even with dice as spaceships.
Also considered for my 2013 pick: Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends
Coconuts BGG Rank 845 (Matt Carlson)
Dexterity games are always welcome in my collection as they provide ways for people to hop in or out of a game and play for a few minutes. I can bring one along to a gathering of folks and get a game up and running between other activities. Coconuts has players using plastic monkey catapults to launch coconuts (that look almost exactly like Milk Duds… or something else monkeys might throw) into a central field of cups. Landing in a cup (in the middle or on an opponent’s mat) lets a player bring the cup onto their own mat. Complete a pyramid of six cups on your mat to win the game. Coconuts has several advantages when it comes to the dexterity genre. While the monkey-launchers are a bit fiddly, but are reliable enough such that technique will give someone the edge. To avoid the steady-state situation where players all continue to steal cups from each other to prevent a win, the coconuts are a limited resource. When the coconuts run out (are all in the cups) , the player with the most coconuts in their cup tower wins the game. The game also stands out as a game that is fully playable with 2,3, or 4 players. In the 3 player game, the central cup area forms a triangle rather than a square. There is an “advanced” game where players each get a special power. I rarely use them. While they can add to the silliness of the game (make someone shoot with their eyes closed, or give someone the ability to blow on a coconut while it’s in the air) they rarely have any actual effect on the outcome of a shot. While Coconuts conjures up memories of the old 80s style of kid’s game/activity you might see advertised between Saturday morning cartoons, the game has been thought through enough such that it is entirely playable, and won’t overstay its welcome
Patchistory – BGG Rank 1022 (Larry)
I’ve always been a Eurogamer through and through and one thing that Eurogames almost always feature is balance. Not only to ensure that the different paths to victory have about the same chance of success, but that things aren’t too swingy, with violent shifts of fortune due to possibly overpowered actions. It tends to be fairer and keeps everybody in the game, happily striving towards victory.
That’s all well and good, but sometimes, you just need a little drama in your life. Patchistory is a civilization game, the initial effort of two young Korean designers. It features a brilliant central mechanic. The tiles you bid on to expand your civ are made up of squares which increase different aspects of your nation. When you add new tiles to your display, you must “patch” them in, by covering up, or tucking them under, some existing squares. Deciding which squares to keep and which to sacrifice (which, of course, influences which tiles to take) makes for fascinating and exquisitely agonizing decisions. But just as important is that some of the abilities you can acquire can be exceedingly powerful, causing real swings of fortune from turn to turn. They seem grossly imbalanced, until the next turn produces one even more powerful, and suddenly, the gaming landscape shifts again. Consequently, the game can feel unfair at times, but it’s also exhilarating and truly epic (just like a Civ game should be!) in ways that more balanced and “fairer” Euros just can’t match. Patchistory isn’t a game I want to play all the time, but it’s so different from my usual fare that it’s a refreshing meal of red meat in my usual balanced diet.
Potato Man BGG Rank 2592 (Jonathan F.)
Lewis and Clark was perhaps my favorite game of 2013, but almost no one I know likes it at all, putting it kindly – in addition, it is probably not unknown enough, so I’m not sure what to pick for 2013. I’m playing it safe with Potato Man. I have a weakness for trick taking games and Potato Man plays with the idea of having the some very low cards being better than the highest cards. It is fairly simple, but good fun.
Other games mentioned on the OG Forum for 2013: Citrus, Race Formula 90, Rockwell, La Boca.
Coconuts is a great dexterity game and a fun way to open a game night. I’ll have to check out Like Dice because, even though I’m not a huge fan of speed games, that built-in catch up mechanism sounds both elegant and clever!
And thanks for the kind words about New Amsterdam. I’m currently working with a publisher on a new addition, one that will streamline some aspects and add some new options as well, all with very strong thematic tie-ins! (I’ve never really stopped working on the game:-)
New Amsterdam is a very good game!
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Besides the art, how is Skylands different than King of Frontier?
From skimming the Skylands rules, there are limits on choosing the same action; the setup is different; the tile selection action is a draft; the buildings are different; the bonus for feeding the cities is quite different; etc.
Wow I didn’t know it was so different. Can Skylands be played with KoF rules do you think?
Other than the buildings, probably. The tile mix is likely different too though.
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My daughter loves Coconuts (she is 6 now), my son (9) hates it, I suspect because my daughter is so much better than all of us at it hahaha.
this list at least contains more games that are outside the well known group from these years.
Patchhistory was a neat idea but it felt boring to me, and the physical implementation worked a lot better in theory than in practice
2012 was the start of a drastic decline in my interest in new titles in general, so I didn’t play so many games perhaps to make a great list of “unheralded” but some I do remember are.
Ground Floor (2012) which I didnt play enough to decide if it was just the cool graphic design that swayed my positive feeling about it, the same goes for
Wildcatters (2013) another Chally favourite, but which failed due to lack of access to 3 or 4 other players willing to invest the time in learning properly
Triassic Terror (2013) considering its kind of El Grandeish area control with dinosaurs didnt do as well as I thought it might do, but a lot of people I know love it, the same with Asgard (2012) which might be the most unique in the Whats Your Game line, but I think the WYG loving mob might be put off by the more colourful, less euroish art style and apparent content. I think its a pretty unique game actually.
what happened to those coal games, Ruhrschifffffffffffffart and kohle and kolonie were all the rage here for a few months but they dont seem to have made it into the upper rankings for euros at bgg at least.
Circus Train (2013) is languishing in the rankings at BGG but I thought that was pretty good as well
Navajo Wars was very popular here, I didnt play it though