Notable Board Games: Where Are They Now?

Since 2005, when my interest in board gaming really took off, I’ve been doing a yearly “best-of” list that I didn’t want to call “best-of” because stupid reasons. So they’re the “Notable New (To Me)” lists. Each year there are several notable games, some honorable mentions, and a “Game of the Year”. I was thinking about these the other day and decided to take a look back at the Game of the Year games to see where they stand with me now.

What I said then:

And, of course, Power Grid. When I first saw this game at Mike’s, I fell in love with the artwork. I thought both the box cover and the board looked great, and I wanted to give it a shot. Then I heard there was an auction element, and my interest cooled — auction games aren’t my favorite things in the world, usually. But when we finally did play it, I was hooked. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about this entire game that I love. Who wouldn’t find the idea of bidding on power plants and constructing an energy network to try and power the most cities absolutely enthralling? And yet, the whole thing works beautifully. For me, Power Grid was the big winner of the year, and my own copy (along with the Italy/France expansion board) is winging its way to me at this very moment!

Where it stands now:

I still adore Power Grid. It’s the only game I’ve consistently tried to get all of the promo cards and expansion maps for, even though the promo cards usually aren’t worth playing with and the maps don’t get as many plays as I’d like. I still consider the game to be in my personal top five, and I’m always up for more of it.

What I said then:

This is the Game of the Year for me. From the moment I saw the artwork I knew I had to have it, and I just hoped it was actually a decent game. It is in fact a very fun game, and the theme and artwork just make it even better. You can read more about it here.

Where it stands now:

I still like this game, though I haven’t played it in ages. I kind of got the impression that the other folks I game with weren’t crazy about it, but I mentioned it not long ago and people were up for it again. I need to put it back in the regular rotation of stuff in the game crate. It’s even one of the few games I’ve “pimped”!

What I said then:

Within a week of getting this I had played it five times, and I’m ready to play it some more. I love the look, I love the mechanics, I love the tension, I love the theme, I love the gameplay. It’s not quite as “deep” as Twilight Struggle, but it still has a lot going on and is (I think) more fun. I gave it a solid 10 on BGG and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. You can see more of me gushing about it here.

Where it stands now:

1960 still gets play from time to time, but I’ve cooled on it somewhat. A lot of the gameplay is of the “I do this/I undo it/I do it again” type that has become tiresome to me, and the other stuff going on doesn’t really make up for it. It’s still a keeper and I’ll still see myself playing it in the future, but it’s definitely come down a couple notches.

What I said then:

Ultimately this had to be the Game of the Year for me, as it did so much. First, it’s a cooperative game, and I previously disliked playing those. I love playing this one. I bought it without playing just from reading the reviews and having a good gut feeling about it, and was not disappointed; within a few days of buying it I had played it ten times. Nearly everyone I’ve played it with has enjoyed it and wanted to play “just one more game” afterwards. It’s a tense and fun gaming experience, it actually has the players cooperating instead of one guy just railroading the others, and it’s very easy to teach. It’s also a very clever design in a lot of ways. Pandemic was a huge hit and is a great addition to my game library.

Where it stands now:

Pandemic is still probably the best cooperative game I own, and my favorite game of that type. However, it’s a type that just doesn’t get that much play with my groups. It went from tons of plays to almost none in a very short amount of time. It’s strange, because many of my friends feel the same way: better than other co-ops, but I don’t really want to play a co-op. I even have the expansion, which has largely remained untouched. I’d love for it to get more plays, and I think some folks are starting to warm up to co-ops again, so we’ll see.

What I said then:

There was no doubt for me that this was the year’s Best in Show. It’s just a top-rate design. Every detail works perfectly, and there are even small details that at first seem stupid and then later reveal incredible thought.

For example, there are mountain spaces on the board that are easy to see. There are also cardboard mountain tokens that go in them. What a stupid, useless waste, right? Well, the thing about mountains is that, unlike every other space, they require an extra unit to conquer. The mountain token allows you to explain the conquer rule in one sentence: it takes two units to conquer any territory, plus one extra unit for any tokens already in the region. The mountain tokens are an extra token, so the terrain cost is figured in. Easy peasy.

There was even thought about how well the game would scale, to the point where it comes with four different boards, one for each number of players from two to five. And it plays with two just as well as with five. It is easy to both teach and pick up, and there isn’t a huge amount of downtime, even with five players.

The game also just plain looks great. God knows I am sick to death of fantasy, but the theme here works perfectly, providing fun and whimsical combinations of races and abilities.

If all of that weren’t enough, there are also two inexpensive expansions that add more races and abilities that just increase the possible fun combos! I can’t imagine getting tired of this game any time soon.

Where it stands now:

I still adore Small World. I’ve bought most of the expansions, and I’m almost always up for a game. Unfortunately, however, another person in my group doesn’t like it and it remains in permanent veto status on game day. I even bought Small World Underground but sold it away when it became clear that (a) Small World games just weren’t going to get played and (b) it wasn’t significantly different enough from the original anyway. Recently, though, more people have been showing up at game day more regularly, to the point where we can often split off into different games, so Small World can be back in the line-up. The fact that it plays different numbers equally well is a big help in this regard too.

What I said then:

I may regret this choice later — we’ll see how much staying power this game has — but for me, the game which I played the hell out of, and would have played more of given the chance, was this one. (For the record, it’s the third game I saw compared to Dominion and it is nothing like Dominion at all.) This game looks like a chaotic mess, but it’s super easy to teach and pick up, and it plays lightning fast. Out of the box there are lots of different ways to approach it and mix things up a bit, and it can be easily expanded. It scales easily from three to seven players, and since the action is more or less simultaneous, adding more players doesn’t increase downtime. Everyone I’ve played it with has enjoyed it and been up for another game of it immediately afterwards. The first printing has sold through and a lot of folks (myself included) eagerly await the second.

Where it stands now:

My misgivings I had even at the time have been somewhat justified. I like the game, and I’m happy to play it, but I’m never clamoring for it, and my personal copy has gone largely untouched. Part of it is that the game exists in a weird limbo, where the setup is too clunky to make it a good filler but it’s not really enough to be a main course. And the expansions, which it seem aim to push it more toward the latter, add length and choices to the game without returning a significant payoff in gameplay. Out of the other games on the list, Thunderstone may have been a better choice here, as that one has had some real legs for me. 7 Wonders, not so much.

What I said then:

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.

Where it stands now:

Ascending Empires hasn’t seen as many plays as I like, but that’s more on me than anything else. It’s a big boy that requires a fair amount of space to play, and many of my pals aren’t really up for flicky games. I’d like for it to get tabled more often, but I still thoroughly enjoy it when it does.

No point in talking about 2012’s Game of the Year, Lords of Waterdeep, as it hasn’t even been two months since I dubbed it so. It’s still getting plenty of attention from my group, and I and others are looking forward to the expansion coming later this year.

So with a couple of exceptions, I’ve not had a bad run here! And even looking at those, it’s not like any of them were horrible, just not as significant as I thought they’d be. Looking at the deeper cuts in the lists there are some that turned out to be sub-notable, but that’s a topic for another time, if ever.

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