Top 10 Most Disappointing Games of 2012

Now that 2012 is almost over, it’s time air out some dirty laundry from the previous year. Should this become tradition? Please note that a couple of these are technically late 2011 releases if you live in Europe, but all of them didn’t hit the United States (where I live) until 2012. So… here is my rant-ish slam on some of the games in 2012 that several people worked very hard to bring to us. I’ll add 10. If anyone else wants to add more, feel free to do so!

bios-megafauna Number 10:

Bios: Megafauna was released unfinished. It might be finished now but, it was unfinished when I played it. First, the original rulebook put me to sleep multiple times. I really wish the publisher had broken the rules down into a standard Euro ruleset with lengthy explanation on the left and a column of “quick rules” on the right. Alea does this in all of their rulebooks for example. The rulebook is indexed which is great. More games should do this, but the Example of Play is next to worthless. There is no “why” or “how” that is clearly presented to a lay person. Everything is intermingled with “science”. I love science more than most people, but let me penetrate the game mechanics first. Then, you could have designer’s notes in an afterword explaining all of the scientific links to the game. As it’s printed, it’s extremely hard to grasp.

To top it off, I also made the unfortunate decision of downloading the living rules which lists like eight vastly different ways to play the game. It seems like there could be a good game here, but what a pain in the butt to have to figure out the right way to play. And then I am supposed to feel confident in teaching it to others? I still have hope for other games from this publisher/designer as they usually tackle themes right up my alley.

hawaii Number 9:

Hawaii might be another game I just don’t understand. It was somewhat interesting for the first couple of plays, then almost immediately fell apart in front of me. I felt like I had been tricked! The setup and round to round refresh completely devastates any long term strategy and the game becomes very random… in a frustrating way. There are infinite ways to score points. Too many in fact. The theme seems to be 100% pasted on which is a problem for more and more Euros as time goes by. 

Everything(!) gives you points and there is no other interaction, metagame, or delayed payoff involved. These features also remove any narrative the game might have. You are doing the same thing in the last round that you are in the first round. Instead of using the game’s randomization to add replayability on top of a tight system, it’s just random for random’s sake. The game seems to have grown out of mechanics begetting more mechanics.

 archipelago Number 8:

Given some of the initial buzz, I ended up being very disappointed in Archipelago. It seemed to have several things that I have been looking for in a civilization-ish type of game. I really don’t like the random goals combined with random endgame conditions combined even further with the randomly distributed evolution cards. Also, the points that players are awarded for each of the different goals in the game are so close that when you finally do score for whatever your goal is, the winner seems very determined by luck. The veritable hodgepodge of Euro mechanics makes the game very obtuse to initially grok, and the first games will seem very much a grind with little to no payoff. The rules organization doesn’t help out either. 

Finally, the game ends up being way too long for the return on investment. It feels like it grew out of mechanics added upon mechanics. Compile that with the fact there never seems to be anything exciting happening, and I don’t understand the lauding for this one.

 mercurius Number 7:

A game of Mercurius is like watching paint dry. I don’t want to get too mired into mechanics, but yeesh! You buy or sell “stuff”, play a card and adjust the price of said “stuff”, then draw a card to refill your hand. Every turn. That’s it. Buy or sell, and then play a card that adjusts prices. The prices move so incrementally that you end up making just a couple of bucks on each transaction. More often than not, you are dealt such a random haphazard set of cards that you can’t really do anything meaningful on your turn… or even for several turns in a row. 

Now. I will grant that there is some long term planning that can happen when you play the game with a full boat of five players. Playing with less than five is pointless. With five, you could make minor adjustments on what you expect the market to look like in several turns, based on card counting and checking out the cards in play. However, that is interesting for about three quarters of a play. Then you realize that you could be playing one of a thousand other games that have a splash of tension in them.

 urbania Number 6:

I currently have this game ranked as a 4. The actual gameplay might rate a 5, but the components pull it down to a 4. It’s impossible to read what’s happening on the board, given the cluttered color palette. It’s horrifying actually. In regards to the gameplay, it’s “fair”, but the inclusion of the expert character cards really comes across as a big afterthought. There just aren’t enough actions/turns available to make the characters have any impact on the game. I gave this one a fair shot, and after multiple plays found that you are always better off refurbishing buildings for points. 

Also, the scoring cards related to the character cards should just be removed from the deck all together. They are completely worthless compared to the scoring cards related to the various areas on the board. And, sadly, that is how you win the game. Luck-sack into the best scoring cards and boom… you are good to go. You might as well deal these out, everyone reveals them, and then you decide who is the winner and pack the game back into the box.

 d-day-dice Number 5:

I actually enjoyed D-Day Dice for about four plays. That’s about all this game has to offer in terms of meaningful or interesting choices. Once you figure out that the solitaire game is close to impossible and four-player is impossible to lose, the game gets samey very quickly. The maps and variety of items don’t really do much to spice up the game… other than to confuse me as to which permutation of the variants in the back in the rulebook will actually balance the solitaire and four-player games.

It just feels underdeveloped. Playing solitaire as multiple players seems to be the best way to play this. When I played it with others, everyone had their head in their dice, or we just let one player figure out what resources each player needs to generate and then trade to everyone else. 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.

 doctor-who-the-card-game Number 4:

Doctor Who: The Card Game is ALMOST solid. At first, the “play two cards then pass three cards” mechanic is interesting. However, the game is so filled with “Take That” cards that directly destroy your scoring cards, that the game devolves into total opportunistic guesswork. Even better…. you don’t score points until the end. So, you pretty much play through the first half of the deck blowing up each other’s score, without any real impact on the outcome at the end of the game. 

The first half, or even two thirds of the game, is just going through the motions. Then the winner is decided by whoever luck-sacked into the better set of cards at the end. I’ve found two ways to make the game more interesting: Cut the deck in half, or play so the game ends IMMEDIATELY when someone places all 5 TARDIS or all 5 Dalek, instead of having to wait until the start of their turn… which is impossible.

 fallen-city-of-karez Number 3:

What a mess Fallen City of Karez is. It was one of several Kickstarter games that were mediocre or worse for me this year. A lot of Karez seems really neat on first blush, as each player has a starting building associated with their chosen guild to give them a unique approach at the start of the game. Example. If you are the blacksmith who focuses on generating lots of equipment for other players to purchase, you could use this money to finance your own adventures, or even create your own dungeon for other players to send their heroes to. So… I could sell equipment to heroes to then enter my dungeon… where they could die and give me the equipment back? Sounds awesome. It doesn’t work out.

The dungeons and adventure system is very much the key to succeeding in the game. Everything else is a gigantic after thought. However, you can get really shafted by the strength of the various monsters, items, and heroes in the game. Everything is just massively unbalanced. The combat system is very hokey. It’s neat for one round of combat, but then it becomes an extremely exploitable system full of several holes. I hope this is not indicative of more games that try to be a “thematic Euro”. It’s got to be one of the hardest kinds of games to make: something extremely cut throat and calculating on the strategy end, but also meshing with an engaging theme. There are some interesting moments in Karez, but overall it’s a giant chore and the dungeon crawling is not even close to balanced with the rest of the economic gameplay.

 power-grid-the-first-sparks Number 2:

I was also extremely disappointed in Power Grid: The First Sparks. First Sparks removes some of the mechanisms and complexity from Power Grid… and all of the excitement! The ENTIRE game is the “bidding” for tech tiles. There’s no rhyme, reason, or real decision to blocking other players on the board. Then, you just spend the rest of the game shuffling wood around. Even the bidding is completely uninteresting. It’s not really even proper bidding, which is fine. 

Are auctions really that complex? Sure… most games take one play or so to learn the correct value for bids. But, why remove the tenseness and curmudgeonly craftiness of a good auction? To make the game more accessible to new players? Great, so I am meant to play this game once and then toss it on the increasing pile of also rans? 

My main gripe is the fact that this was labeled with the “Power Grid” brand. Does this game even get made without that label? It’s a travesty.

dc-comics-deck-building-game Number 1:

The DC Comics Deck-Building game is by far the worst disappointment of the year, especially when juxtaposed with other recent super hero games. The gameplay is beyond mediocre. You buy cards and get more cards to get more cards to get more cards to get more cards. It’s a step backwards in the Deckbuilding genre. 2008 called…

If you draw your hand and have something even remotely interesting to do, the game seems to go out of it’s way to obliterate any sense of theme. So Aquaman uses the Batmobile this turn… and then I play… Wait a minute! What?? This is a cardinal sin. It’s possible that some will find this part of the game “cute”, but after playing Marvel Legendary (let alone Sentinels of the Multiverse), there is no reason for this game to ever hit my table. I constantly found myself mutter, “But how… How could this… I don’t know…. I don’t know…” 

And the villains just kind of sit there, and then eventually someone wins, and it just… doesn’t matter. 

If I may…. in Simpson comic book guy voice, “Could this game have ripped off Ascension more?”


~ Joel Eddy

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3 thoughts on “Top 10 Most Disappointing Games of 2012”

  1. I agree with much of this list except #9: Hawaii. I think this is a great game and for someone who enjoys Trajan, it’s funny to read “There are infinite ways to score points. Too many in fact.” Granted, I will only play this via the online adaptation at because it eliminates the tedious setup, refresh and fiddlyness. So maybe this confirms rather than opposes your viewpoint now that I think about it, becuase as a board game it can be annoying but as a computer game, it is fun…

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  2. The differences between Hawaii and Trajan and vast I think. With Trajan, you can set yourself up for “large” turns where you execute multiple actions and score a bunch of points. The bonus tiles also allow for so some decision making in terms of round-to-round strategy. The blocking and race aspects of the Forum, Buildings, and Military areas are very important when considering delaying your build-up to score lots of points, especially in a two player game. Whereas, I thought with Hawaii, the randomization of the “costs” was just wholly tacked on.

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  3. First sparks is awful. truly awful. I have never been so angry after playing a game. I LOVE power grid. This game was so bad. I have played other games I didnt like, but no game have I hated like I hated First Sparks.

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