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The Best and Worst of 2012 … So far!

20 September 2012 5 Comments

 


Kevin Wenzel (from 2d6.org) -

We are swiftly getting close to the Essen game fair and the 2D6 gang wanted to take a look at what has been offered so far. What games have stopped the world or grabbed our attention, and which ones have been a little disappointing. This year, more than any year before, there have been so many choices from new companies and old alike. We are also excited to see what will be offered the rest of the year and hopefully be surprised by what may come.

 

Joel Eddy (from Drive Thru Review) -

This is really turning out to be a great year for games! It might even be better than 2011, which I’ve heard some folks tout as the best year for games in recent memory. This year there are many great games that have a collectible strain to them: Dungeon Command, Star Wars: X-Wing, Android: Netrunner, and I am looking forward to trying Mage Wars. But my choice for the best game of 2012 (so far) is not one of these.

Best So Far: Andean Abyss. I can’t stop thinking about this game. It could be one of the most innovative games of the last several years. It’s like designer Volko Ruhnke took the CDG mechanisms of Twilight Struggle and mashed it into a multiplayer, streamlined, back-stab-fest, with a splash of a States of Siege game from VPG.The game takes place in the tumultuous Columbia of the late 1990s, with four different factions vying for control of the country. Each faction has a small set of actions that they can perform to execute a strategy unique to their goals. But, the order in which cards are drawn from a singular deck can make for tough tactical choices, hesitation, and fast and furious negotiations. Alliances will come and go, but the game streamlines all of it so as not to bog down in needless “Negotiation AP”. Table talk is a must! It’s great.
  Most Disappointing So Far: D-Day Dice. This is a game that has received an inordanant amount of hype, and I actually did enjoy it for about four plays. That’s about all this game has to offer in terms of meaningful and interesting choices. Once you figure out that solitaire is close to impossible and four-player is impossible to lose, the game gets samey very quickly.The maps and variety of items do not really do much to spice up the game, other than to confuse me as to which permutation of the variants in the back of the rulebook will actually balance the solitiare and four-player games. There is a kernel of a good game in here, and I should say that where the game lacks in replayability, it does make up for in terms of component quality and thematic flare. There’s definite room for improvement. Not the worst game I played this year, but definitely the most dissapointing.
  Biggest Suprise So Far: Fleet. My group and I are very taken by this game. The only new game I’ve played more this year is Seasons. And, Seasons is plagued by the more than occassional unplayable three and four player game.Anyway, back to Fleet. Thankfully, Fleet actually works with all player counts. I think this is a game that will have legs and stay in my collection for years to come. I should probably note that I am susceptible to games in this vein. Race for the Galaxy and San Juan are two games that are probably as close as you can come when searching for a good comparison to Fleet. Well, take San Juan and throw in auctions! It mind not sound like it, but it works great. If you are not a fan of auction games, I would still give this one a whirl. The different ways that the special powers of the license cards can interact with each other should greatly please fans of other card games like San Juan, Race, or Glory to Rome. It’s a very unique take, and there are subtleties to the game that will not be apparent after only a few plays.

 

Enrico Viglino (calandale from Youtube and BGG) -

There were a couple of games I felt worth investigating/investing in this year. So far though, only four that were high on my radar ended up in my collection (and played).

Best So Far: Kingdom of Heaven. From early play, this promises to be the big winner of the year. Nice fluid CDG, with some really innovative handling of sieges, and a concept long missing from ALL wargames, the harrasing effects which an army can manage by maintaining long term contact with an enemy. Unlike most CDGs, this one comes with nine different scenarios – each of them representing a different historical segment. You get your money’s worth on this one.
Most Dissapointing So Far: God Kings. I knew I was stepping into a lighter and more abstracted treatment than I usually like, and was prepared for that, but this felt almost flavorless. The time scale didn’t sit well as a CDG, in my opinion. Design choices based upon that scale – especially the end of 20 years’ clean up – created artificial cycles. An effort was made to add flavor through graphics, but it only made the components more difficult to read/identify. I know some people like it – but for me, this just didn’t manage to please.

 

Geof Gambill (from The Long View) -

For my picks for the most surprising and most disappointing game of the year, I have had to do a lot of soul searching. The key words for me here are surprising and disappointing, not best or worst, so I’ll focus on those ideas.

Since I am long winded by nature, I’m also going to expand the question to include what I believe the theme of the year in gaming is as well, but more on that later.

Worst So Far: For me, the biggest disappointment has to be a tie between Kingdom Builder and Ora et Labora. Now I know that may raise a few eyebrows since they are both highly rated games, and Kingdom Builder was the Spiel des Jahres winner, but I’ll explain. Let’s start with Kingdom Builder. I was quite taken aback by this game. I am not a person who reads rules to games pre-release, and, in particular, if the game is coming from a designer I know and like, I often just buy based on the name alone. There is NO Feld game I hate. I have my favorites to be sure, but I like all of them. He’s a designer that clicks with me. Same with Donald X Vaccarino.This lack of pregame research is entirely my fault to be sure, and expectations have so much to do with your perception of a game, but mine were clearly not matched to what I experienced in this game. I expected something so much less random, so much more thematic, and much less abstract. The game is quick and easy to play, to be sure, and there is a little hidden depth there in the selection of the areas that you choose to begin to populate, and which bonus tokens to go for, but so much of the game is tied to the random flip of the card each turn, that there seems to be little chance for long term strategy or planning. So for me, lack of theme, and totally random card flips that determine where you can place your pieces that turn, and the abstract nature of this game made it fall totally flat for me. A big disappointment.
Worst So Far (Part 2!): Now, on to the hype machine. Ora et Labora. Uwe Rosenberg, check. Resource conversion game. Check. Worker placement, check. Rondel mechanic, check (I loves me some rondels!). And, the most important of all, “This game will replace Le Havre” and, “This game is Le Havre on Steroids” and finally, “This game is the perfect combination of Agricola and Le Havre”. WOW! One of my favorite games of all time (NO! Not Agricloa, Le Havre of course!) made even better? This I HAVE to have! This game will be awesome! Then I played it. I really like it. It’s solid. It’s good. It has production issues as far as I’m concerned (I’m looking at you crappy, thin, insulting player boards and expansion boards. See the seething hatred and fear my nerd rage consumer wrath!), but the game is very good.It’s got all the things I listed, but it ain’t no replacement for Le Havre. Le Havre for the win. Ora builds like Le Havre does, but the addition of the unique special buildings, and the random setup for how the standard buildings will come out each game makes Le Havre the superior game, hands down for me.I rate Ora a solid 7 or 8, but I was truly disappointed. I thought if a game could be better than Le Havre, it would be an instant 10 in my book. Instead, I got a perfect information game that offered many paths to victory but, in the end, it felt like Puerto Rico in that there would ultimately not be enough randomness to keep the game fresh for the long haul. Go ahead and try to convince me otherwise, but I doubt you’ll be able to do it. Le Havre is just better.
  Biggest Surprise/Best So Far: Now that I’ve surprised people with my biggest disappointments of the year, it’s on to the biggest surprise of the year. The key word here is surprise. I expected Eclipse to be good. I expected Trajan to be great, and it really is. What a fantastic euro! I expected Star Trek Fleet Captains to make me feel like I was in the Star Trek world, and boy did it deliver. The most surprising game for me comes down to a few that stick out in my memory.King of Tokyo, 1812 Invasion of Canada, Strike of the Eagle, and Mage Knight.Even though all of these could have been my winner, I have to give the nod to Mage Knight. This is a game that took me by surprise. I had NO knowledge of the Mage Knight story or universe, or previous game systems. All I knew is that it was a Vlaada Chvatil game, and that it was supposed to be playable solo, with a deck building engine and characters that leveled up. Sold. I received the game and quickly dug in. After an hour, I knew I had found something truly deep, unique and special. I was NOT expecting this. I was expecting Prophesy with some deck building thrown in. This game is much, much more. It is a puzzle game at heart, but strangely thematic for such a mechanical creation. It is engrossing and highly re-playable. It is enjoyable and very, very strategic. It is a game that rewards repeated play, and one that you will become better at with time and experience. It has a lot of bang for the buck in terms of game play, and one that caught me truly by surprise in the same wonderful way that Dominant Species caught me totally off guard with its brilliance last year.Mage Knight was my surprise of the year. It also narrowly, narrowly beat out Trajan as my game of the year. Trajan is brilliant, and both challenging and novel as you try to manipulate and force your control over the internal inertia/momentum of your own mancala rondel. It offers a stunning variety of ways to collect victory points, and many, many paths to victory that keeps it fresh. The variable game length that is controlled by the players themselves as they manipulate their rondels is also both unique and a masterful part of the design. In the end, however, Mage Knight beats it out as the game of the year for me so far for all of the reasons I’ve already discussed, though it was quite a close affair.

 

Now on to the bonus thought. I think this has to be the year of the accessible war game for me. So many fantastic war games were released, that I think it has brought a breath of fresh air to the genre that may lead to more and more excellent middle to light designs. Games like Strike of the Eagle and Sekigahara are relatively easy to play and teach, with few of the exceptions and myriad of complex rules that hold people back from playing games in this genre. 1812 the Invasion of Canada (a close, close second for surprise of the year), and even games like D-Day Dice made this a great year for wargames that the average gamer could try and enjoy. Now we see games like Andean Abyss, Cuba Libre, 1775 and more on the horizon, all of which offer deep game play with elegant, streamlined rules, and the trend only looks to continue.

 

Jesse Dean (from On Gamer’s Games) -

Best of the Year: Dungeon Command. This is also #2 just behind Andean Abyss for “Biggest Surprise So Far”, as I was expecting to be indifferent to the game at best. As it stands Dungeon Command is a fast and effective tactical miniatures game, with just enough streamlining to ensure that you are able to focus on the strategy rather than the rules, and a varied and entertaining decision space with tons of special powers and potentially evil things you can do to your opponent. So a very solid game.Honorable mention goes to Android: Netrunner, which I have also quite enjoyed. I probably like it better than Dungeon Command, but since it is essentially a rerelease of a late 90’s game (Netrunner), I am not giving it my Best of the Year (so far) award.
  Biggest Disappointment: Seasons. This was sold to me as an entertaining take on the variable player powers combo-building idea. But it failed almost completely for me, being so chaoticly laden with take-that special powers that it pretty much sucked all the enjoyment out of the game for me.
  Biggest Surprise So Far: Andean Abyss. This is probably the real Best of the Year, but with only one play I am not yet willing to give it that honor. I was really not expecting much from it though, and I am pretty happy with how effortlessly it combines multiple player powers, deep player interaction, and some very innovative mechanics into a rather entertaining whole. Very fun, and I look forward to playing it more in the very near future.

 

Lance Myxter – (from Undeadviking Videos)

The Best: Descent 2nd Edition. The first edition of Descent was a huge, monolithic, enjoyable mess of a game. The rule set was incredibly unwieldy at times, but the theme, and the story, and the fact that you were exploring a dungeon and slaying monsters (while one of your friends tried to do you in) carried itself past the rules misgivings, making the game a super huge hit.Second edition came out and I didn’t know what to think, but I had read the rules and I was optimistic. While it has been simplified some, it cleared up a lot of the mess. It makes it stupendously easier to make your own adventures (as an overlord) and the logical progression the players take with their characters take a lot of the “bookkeeping” out of the equation.What you are left with maintains the deep, rich storytelling, yet keeps the players on their toes, and having a blast the entire time.Honorable Mention – Manhattan project
  The Worst: Nefarious. I normally dislike trashing on  games, but I will make an exception with this one because I am STILL waiting for a decent Mad Scientist themed board game. I felt like this one had some promise, but like its predecessors, it falls completely flat. After you get past the amusement of the names of some of the devices  you make, you are left with an incredibly boring, lifeless game of mediocre hand management and “kind of” worker placement. I give it mild “interest points” with the blind role selection, offering up a couple of interesting choices here and there, but for the most part, you are better off not even bothering to think of your opponents and what they are up to, and just focusing on what YOU need to do with each one of your turns. A game that had “filler” intentions, but simply lasts too long for the small amount of enjoyment it gives.(Dis)honorable Mention – Kingdom Builder (yeah I know its 2011 but this one was particularly awful)
  The Surprise: Omen: Reign of War. I need to review this sucker but I haven’t found the time. Normally I am uninterested in two player games because I never have the time to play them or have only one person over or available to play, but this one MAKES me want to have only one person at my house – in all honesty, my wife probably hates that this game exists, since I pester her to play it all the time. It combines the simplicity that makes Ascension as good as it is, with an engaging theme, and tons of fun and intriguing choices each time you play.Everyone should own this game.Honorable Mention – 1989: Dawn of Freedom

 

Andrew Lloyd (from Left Hand Reviews)

Best So Far: 1989: Dawn of Freedom. There have been a lot of games that have been released this year that I have had a great time playing. But when picking what I think is the Best So Far, I need to weigh in not only the “fun-factor”, but also the depth of strategy and replayability. In my view, GMT’s 1989: Dawn of Freedom is the best game of 2012 so far. Despite being labeled a wargame, it has enough Euro feel to it that it is well received by players of both genres. It has deep tactical and strategic elements, combined with excruciating decision making, and a dash of dice chucking to keep things interesting. This is an excellent game.
Most Disappointing So Far: Di Renjie. A deduction card game where players are trying to determine (as a group) the location, weapon, and target of an assassination before it occurs. At the end of the game, if each of the 3 pieces has been guessed, then the group wins. Then there is individual scoring to determine the ultimate winner. Unfortunately, the beautiful card art was not enough to save this game. It is essentially Clue without the board. Also, the game requires that you keep track of a lot of stuff, like in Clue, but doesn’t provide any checklists or anything to do so, relying on you to hand out paper and a pen. I also found that the game balance depends highly on the number of players, and with 2 players, the game is essentially broken. This game may appeal to certain gamers, but for me, it was a miss.
Biggest Surprise So Far: Lords of Waterdeep. I know this game is more or less a runaway hit, but when I was first hearing about it, I just wasn’t that excited. When I finally had the chance to play the game, I was blown away. I am not a D&D player, so much of the complaints from that community don’t resonate with me. I love how the game is quick to learn, fast paced, has great artwork, and is just plain fun.
Kevin Wenzel
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5 Comments »

  • Matt Riddle said:

    Hey Joel, Thanks for the Fleet mention.
    I love the difference in opinions. I like Waterdeep for what it is. Fast, fun, easy to teach. MY fav of 2012… does Last Will count? I dont own it yet, but I loved it all three plays.
    Eclipse was BY FAR my biggest dissapointment. Its fine, but nto great. Honorable mention is dissapointments to Castles of Burgandy.

    Played with MAge Knight, but havent finsihed a game yet. Like it so far.

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  • Tethel Morrison said:

    Worst game for me so far was: Nuns on the Run! Tom Vassel Made me buy it with his glowing review and after one play we were all like “This Sucks!” Ugh!

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  • Joel Eddy said:

    My distinct pleasure Matt. I was going to fire it up again today, but got busy. Needless to say, one member of group was extremely disappointed in my choice of priorities.

    Wait… Castles of Burgundy a disappointment? You are dead to me!

    Have not played Nuns on the Run. All of those games (Nuns, Ninja, that Jack the Ripper one)… they all seem like Scotland Yard with needless chrome to me!

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  • Matt Riddle said:

    Castles was fun for 45-60min… then nothing changed and it went another hour. I HATE Macao…. But despite that I want to play Luna and Trajan. I’ll get back to you on those.

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  • Joel Eddy said:

    Macao is pretty horrible I think. Castles shouldn’t last longer than 90 minutes with a full boat. However, I’ve played it with people prone to AP and seen it climb over 120 though.

    On the other hand I can get a two-player game of Castles (with experienced players) done in less than hour… easily.

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