My board gaming life: 2012 highlights

I think that, if I’m honest, I should describe 2012 as the year board games went from being a hobby to a minor obsession.

Despite saying a year ago I was happy with my collection of just over 50 games, I still managed to practically double my collection. Add to that the fact I had three game related holidays in the year, joined two new game groups and wrote more on board and card games than ever before, the evidence is overwhelming.

For this reason I thought it best to separate my gaming year from everything else, as there was a big list of highlights. But as I started to put the list together it became clear the traditional ‘top 10’ wasn’t going to cut it. So (in 3,000 words or less…) here’s my raggle taggle list of 2012 gaming goodness.

My 8 best gaming experiences of 2012

These really stood out but are hard to categorise. In no particular order:

  • Ra for the Galaxy: While I spent a lot of time playing new and often brilliant games in 2012, Ra and Race for the Galaxy remain firmly in my ever fluctuating top five – usually in the top two spots. It’s been a pleasure to continue playing them, especially with my midweek group (Andy and Carl), and I never see them getting old. Simply brilliant games I enjoy every time.
  • Spreading the love through plastic trains: Another game rarely out of that top five is Ticket to Ride. Once again it has been our go-to gateway game of 2012, with Zoe and me successfully introducing it to four new couples. We just need to make sure we repeat some of those experiences in 2013, as we got a bit lazy late in the year. As for TtR, it should also be said it’s not just its gateway value that makes it shine – it’s a game I’m always happy to play.
  • Games as souvenirs: I guess it’s another mark of my burgeoning obsession, but I love to look on my shelves and see my Greek version of Citadels (from our awesome trip to Paros) and Spanish version of Lost Cities (from my regular trips to Barcelona). They’re great reminders of good times and are far more useful than fridge magnets! Well, ‘Exploradores’ is anyway – sadly my Greek doesn’t extend to playing Citadels (or, in fact, to doing more than asking for a beer).
  • Thrashed by mine own wench: During 2012, Zoe won every game of Ticket to Ride: Switzerland we played – seven wins in seven. This is important to me because it’s brilliant to have a girlfriend who is happy to play games – but also one who is good at them. She talks herself down sometimes, while some games simply don’t click with her, but on her day she’ll wipe the floor with me and that’s healthy! Happy to say I’ve already broken this duck though, with our first play of this year, but this record will forever stand.
  • Score draws: Following on from celebrating my defeats, I’ll move on up to drawing. While some people obsess over winning, I absolutely love a close game – whatever the outcome – and it doesn’t come closer than a great draw. 2012 saw some epic draws, including a fantastic game of Alhambra and back to back draws in Carcassonne – with two different groups in two days. I definitely fall on the side of ‘celebrate your shared victory’ rather than pointless deciding factors (most gold, or similar); you can’t really be expected to play for those in games where draws are rare, so why add these conditions in? I blame American sports.
  • Board in the sun: I’ve rattled on enough about Paros elsewhere, but the memories of sitting in the shade with a beer, enjoying the heat (it was just right for me when we went in early June) and learning a new game deserves a final mention. We learnt both Calus and Power Grid on this trip and my gaming life is much rich for the experience. I’ve managed to balls up going in 2013, but the minute the flights go on sale for 2014 I’m booking us in!
  • Playtesting prototypes: Another mark of my obsession has been further reaching into the hobby through playtesting and designing. I’ve had a lot of fun helping with the upcoming City of Guilds: The Card Game, while joining the Cambridge Playtest Group via Meetup.com has been a real revelation. I’m nowhere near a finished game myself, but to play both mine and other people’s prototypes with published game designers has been truly inspirational. I really hope the likes of Inspector Moss: House Arrest, Space Dogsbody and Divinare Dice get the published versions they deserve.
  • It’s a trip: Again, I’ve rattled on about these elsewhere, but trips to Essen, Eastbourne and Paros were full of great memories that will stay with me forever. Add to that the camaraderie I’ve found through my irregular trips down to London on Board (LoB) – and the related games days that have followed – and it has been a year of travelling far and wide for some fantastic gaming experiences.

My top individual game plays of 2012

I looked back through my gaming year blog on Board Game Geek and picked my most memorable individual plays that don’t get a mention elsewhere.

  • January: A great start to the year thanks to Matt’s hilarious 0 in Peloponnes during a fun gaming night at morph and Davina’s; Zoe trashing me at Hamburgum after seeing a better strategy; and me winning an epic game of Ra (versus Carl and Andy) 39-35-32.
  • February: A rare Endeavor win for me on 46, where I finally remembered there is something to do other than shipping; scoring 200 points in a completely dominant display in Revolution! Sometimes it’s just great to win big.
  • March: Most notable was a brilliant game of Decathlon with Zoe which was tense throughout. I won it 220-219 on the final throw of the dice – we really need to get this Knizia P&P game back to the table soon.
  • April: My first game of the excellent Manhattan Project at London on Board, with Ed pulling out a win that no one (except him, I suspect) saw coming. It couldn’t have been a better advert for the game.
  • May: A pretty depressing month of illness and miserablism was made more palatable by some great solo games; most notably Pizza Box Football, Adventures of D and Mage Knight. There was also a fantastic game of Ticket to Ride with Zoe, Morph and Davina that saw the four of us separated by just 11-points at the end.
  • June: Again with morph and Davina, but this time a different TtR: this time it was Team Asia, which Zoe and me lost 174-168 on quite literally the last card as they just completed a tunnel. Carl and me also had an epic two-player slug fest in Race for the Galaxy, which I lost 62-60 in a prestige drawing vs big military high-scorer.
  • July: I really didn’t expect Zoe to like Pizza Box Football – not did I expect one of the closest games of the year, with me finally losing 16-13 in overtime. We also had a fantastic game of Through the Ages where Zoe took a huge lead that I almost managed to claw back, finally going down 225-211.
  • August: A brilliant day at the Olympic tennis ended with Zoe’s first trip to LoB and us finding Jambo in the big random box of games; one that has since been bought and become a favourite. I also thoroughly enjoyed coming in dead last at Stone Age to Carl and Andy – a game I’d previously dominated; while Carl scored 87 in RftG – the highest total in any of our 200+ plays to date.
  • September: We had a fun game of Pompeii with morph and Davina, where Morph got crap draws and barely got a person on the board – but got them all out and came second – while Davina got bucket-loads out and then got terrible tile draws, ending up last. I also had a memorable introduction to Vanuatu at LoB.
  • October: The real Essen playing highlights were Snowdonia (with the Woking crew) and Tzolk’in with our new Australian friends. I also have a great image in my mind of playing Love Letter on the train when visiting Zoe’s sister.
  • November: Most noteable from our Eastbourne trip were the plays of Die Macher (thanks to Soren, who also introduced me to Vanuatu) and Goblins Inc (with the rather silly Tom and Lloyd). Also noteable was a great introduction to Terra Mystica on another regular LoB night.
  • December: Two Morph related incidents stand out: him crying with laughter while playing Cards Against Humanity, plus his Stone Age epiphany; he hadn’t liked it when we played a long time ago when he’d only just started gaming, but playing now he just ‘got’ it – and nearly beat me too.

The best 16 not new but ‘new to me’ games of 2012

I was going to painstakingly distil this down to 10, but then I realised I already on my third page of A4 and thought – why bother? So, in no real order:

Bought

  • Notre Dame: Engaging, tactical and strategic, while being well produced and playing in under an hour.
  • Puerto Rico: A classic for a reason – tough decisions, barely any luck and where watching your competitors is crucial.
  • Caylus: The granddaddy of worker placement rewards forward planning, but also ruthlessness.
  • Power Grid: A genius blend of route building and auction mechanisms which, despite the odd theme, looks great too.
  • Dixit: I’m not a party game fan, but the creativity this encourages through its beautiful artwork is impossible not to fall for.
  • Jambo: A brilliant two-player card game that has a great (and hard to find) blend of strategy, luck and interaction.
  • Acquire: A clever mix of tile placement/area control with a stocks and shares engine that actually makes investing seem like fun.
  • The Boss: There can’t be a game that packs more painstaking decisions into such a tiny box. Clever, quick and a lot of fun.
  • The Scepter of Zavandor: An economic/auction game with a fantasy theme? Who cares, it works!
  • Jaipur: Two-player set collection with just enough push-your-luck bells and tactical whistles to make it stand out from the crowd.

Not bought (yet…)

  • Fairy Tale: Card drafting done right in a tiny box of cards. It shall be mine! Should have the popularity 7 Wonders has.
  • Kingdom Builder: A lovely twist on area control, which initially looks restrictive but is quite the opposite.
  • Glen More: Another big game in a small box, this tile-layer has a great rondel mechanism and builds beautifully to a climax.
  • Galaxy Trucker: Space! Build your ship on a time limit then fly your box of bolts to its ultimate destruction! Fun!
  • Die Macher: My head still hurts. Hours and hours of German political wrangling, deal making and influence building. Brilliant.
  • Cards Against Humanity: A party game where being the most inappropriate and simply wrong in the head will get you the win.

I’ll add two expansions here too – Rattus: The Pied Piper and the Rattus 2010 Bonus Cards. As any good expansion should, these breathe new life into a game that I’d initially enjoyed but that had started to gather dust. You could of course argue that these should’ve been in the original box, but that’s another debate…

My 7 favourite new releases of 2012

I certainly didn’t play them all, but these are the 2012 releases that had the strongest impression of me. There were plenty more; in fact three great games I really enjoyed – Seasons, Goblins Inc and Coup – were on the list until the last minute. However, I felt there was a significant drop to those, so I left them off. So, in order of love:

  1. Snowdonia: My game of the year – worker placement goodness with the theme perfectly integrated alongside some properly clever mechanisms to keep the game ticking along and to be different every time.
  2. Tzolk’in: Another brilliant worker placement game, where the gears work perfectly to negate annoying upkeep duties. There are lots of routes to victories and forward planning is a must.
  3. Terra Mystica: The Eclipse killer for me, intelligently integrating area control with civ building and worker placement to make a non-confrontational yet tense and interactive experience.
  4. Plato 3000: What a surprise this was; a cyberpunk themed rummy variant that does just enough to the solid original mechanisms to make it a real gamer’s game.
  5. Love Letter: There are just 16 cards, it has very simple rules and it packs a ridiculous level of luck – but who cares? Fast, furious and fun.
  6. Copycat: I’m totally sold on this simple blend of Dominion’s deck building, Through the Ages’ card drafting and Agricola’s turn structure. I’m not sure of its staying power, but for the moment I’m having a blast.
  7. Manhattan Project: Another worker placement game that stood out from the crowd. Blocking key spaces is fantastic, especially on other players’ personal boards, while the hidden endgame conditions make for some tense finales.

I’d also like to add Ticket to Ride: Asia here as my best expansion release of 2012. It brings two genuinely new maps to the game – one introduces a brilliant team variant, while the other plays faster than any other version of the game. Both are great fun.

Incidentally, I didn’t play Descent 2, Waterdeep, X-Wing, Mage Wars, 1989, Space Cadets or Mice and Mystics (most now in the BGG top 250), while I don’t consider Android ‘new’ (although I enjoyed playing it back in the day).

And not forgetting…

It’s traditional around this time to put the boot into a few things; to let off some steam on some crap because it’s therapeutic, fun to read and possibly controversial. That’s pretty cheap, in honesty – but I’m going to do it anyway. Why the hell not? These things wasted my precious free time and/or money and I have precious little of either (although this blog post may call that into question).

  • Kickstarter games: What a bunch of crap – and I fell for it. Three times. I won’t go into the Glory to Rome debacle again here (I save that for my therapist), but since then I’ve been burnt twice more: Ace of Spies and Lost City of Karez, both of which I was meant to collect at Essen in October, still haven’t arrived. Bastards. So help me god, I will not back another game on Kickstarter – although the site itself isn’t to blame and I’ll continue to use it to back other things (such as the fantastic The Spiel podcast).
  • Crappy games: I’ve played a few real stinkers this year – the worst offenders being Swordfish and Courtier (both get the strategy/luck/length mix completely wrong), Spectaculum (a pointless rearranging of the Knizia toolbox), Among the Stars (combining the worst elements of drafting and tile laying) and Barista (lovely bits, lovely box, no game).
  • Overhyped games: Only a few for me this year: Suburbia (an exercise in mathematical efficiency totally devoid of charm), Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (Agricola with the game skilfully removed) and Spartacus (either too long, or too short).
  • Race for the Galaxy: Where the hell is the Alien Artefacts expansion! Bastards! And Dice for the Galaxy too. Don’t make me come over there…

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