One of the top-ten-ish things I like to do is list ten boardgames, all new (at least to me), that really stood out for me. However, there’s a problem with that this year: there aren’t ten.
It’s not that I didn’t play new stuff, but a lot of the new stuff just didn’t wow me. There was a lot of Eurogame cube-diddlin, but games like Macao, Die Burgen von Burgund, Merkator, and such didn’t add enough to the same stale gameplay to make a difference. On the other side of the coin, there were games such as London, Founding Fathers, Rush n’ Crush, and Small World Underground that I liked, but couldn’t get played more than once, so I have no idea what kind of staying power they have. (And then there’s the third category, which we’ll get to later on.)
Rather than add some filler entries with things in them that, ultimately, don’t belong there, I’m going ahead and presenting a truncated list. I know how many of you rely on the quality of these lists, and I wouldn’t want to present you with an inferior product.
Planet Steam – Out of print and big as a pony, I paid far more for this than I would usually consider spending on a game. Also, I’d never played it before. I hoped it would be worth the price. Was it? Not really, but the price was pretty stupid. Still, it’s a brutal economic game that, unlike others of its ilk, never lets you sit back and coast on your engine. It really deserves a more sanely packaged and produced reprint. More here.
Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer – I missed out on this one during the deckbuilding surge of 2010, but got to try it out in early 2011. It was a nice enough game, different from the other deckbuilders and more about tactics, but not enough to make me run out and buy it. When it showed up in the iPad, though, it was a hit. Perfectly suited for turn-based play, my friends and I ground out dozens of games before the shine wore off and we got a little bored with it. Then came the Rise of the Fallen expansion and we were back in business. Do I want to own the “real” version? No. But I play the digital one nearly every day. More here.
Bhazum – This game is so unappreciated that there are only two images of it on BGG. Two! That’s a shame, because it’s a gorgeous and deep two-player slugfest. I’ve only played a few times and haven’t yet wrapped my head around the strategies, but each time I felt I was cracking into it a little bit more. Bhazum is from John Clowdus’ Small Box Games and is currently out of print, but if you can grab a copy somehow, I recommend it.
Innovation: Echoes of the Past – I don’t usually put expansions to games here, but I think this merits an exception. Innovation was a Notable Game last year and I still enjoy playing it, but this expansion really turned up the volume on it, adding a lot of nice features without overwhelming the original game play. Expansions are always a tricky call, but in this case I think it really does improve the original game, which was already a lot of fun.
Belfort – Belfort, I admit, doesn’t do much of anything new. Pretty much everything here is something you’ve seen before, several times over. It’s not always about innovation, though — what Belfort does do is take this familiar elements and combine them into a fun, attractive package that feels pretty fresh.
The New Era (51st State) – This sort of counts as two entries in one. I bought 51st State on a whim and enjoyed it, and when I heard there was a stand-alone expansion for it (The New Era), I got that as well. Turns out The New Era is a complete do-over of the game and makes it much better. More streamlined, more interaction, nicer components. This very nearly made my pick as Game of the Year, and it’s a very close second. You can read more about it here
Ascending Empires – If you like fantasy as a theme, you are set in the board game world. You can elf as many dungeons with your wizarding stick as your heart desires. But if you like science fiction, then obviously what you want is a fourteen-hour long grindfest of sprawling space empires all trying to be the first to research Calculus so they can build terraforming stations or whatever. What I’m saying is, space games tend to only come in one flavor. Ascending Empires changes this, bringing the space conquest field into a fun, fast, and more appealing format. Yes, it has a flicky element, but unlike previous games with this element (such as Catacombs, which is now in the trade pile), this isn’t the only feature of the game. There’s a lot more going on, but not so much that you need to set aside an entire afternoon and your plans to ever know the touch of a woman to experience. The only, only, bad point is a huge one — the production values on the game boards are lousy, and this was almost enough for me to knock it out of the top spot, but I’ve had so much fun playing the game as is that I can’t really complain too much.
Palastgeflüster — I had played this game once before 2011, disqualifying it, but this year I got my own copy. It’s a nifty little card game with a lot of interesting twists and turns.
20th Century — Very nearly made the list, but there’s something that just isn’t there…or maybe something that is there but shouldn’t be.
Olympos — One of the many games I liked a lot while playing, but only ended up playing once.
The games that wowed the BGG bunch which I played were Dominant Species, Quarriors, Eminent Domain, and Kingdom Builder. I found Dominant Species to be an overly drawn out version of a bunch of other games that doesn’t really offer much beyond what they do (review here). Quarriors was a neat idea, but the play is uninvolving, mechanical, and dull (review here). Eminent Domain feels like there just needs to be more to it. Every game I’ve played ends just as I feel things are getting interesting, and to be honest, things never get that interesting. And Kingdom Builder is pleasant enough, but it feels in the same realm as Ticket to Ride to me: It’s a good game to play with newer gamers, but I don’t know why you’d play it otherwise.