The best of 2016, part 2: My top board gaming experiences

My 5 best gaming experiences of 2016

With a few small exceptions, 2016 felt like a year of consolidation and keeping the wheels turning while my life started to settle into some kind of new normal. Overall plays were down, as old patterns fell apart and new ones failed to find a solid footing (I blame Thatcher). But there was still a lot of great gaming to be had:

  • SorConThis was the first ‘gaming in a hotel’ style con I’d been to outside of LoBsterCon, and I only knew two people who were going – but it turned out to be a lovely weekend of gaming in Essex. I played with lots of lovely folk, played lots of great games, and look forward to attending again next month. And all this despite getting the worst hammering of my gaming life in my first (and probably last) play of Food Chain Magnate.
  • Essen: The release of Armageddon at the show was thoroughly nerve-wracking, and overall the fair was even more exhausting than usual – but I had a brilliant time. From catching up with old friends/publishers and making/meeting new ones, to gaming and drinking into the small hours, it was a total blast. I didn’t manage to get any games signed this time, but there are still some irons in the fire… and I grabbed a record haul of games to review.
  • Eastbourne: This year’s two trips to the seaside for gaming goodness were notable for being held in a new hotel. I’d liked the old one, but (breakfast sausages aside) the experience in the new one beat it hand’s down. We took it over completely, so you knew that everywhere you looked you’d find fellow gamers. As usual I spent as much time socialising as I did gaming, but that’s just testament to what a nice bunch the LoB crowd is. I’m missing the next one, but will back in November for sure!
  • Games at work: I managed to convince my boss to give me a board game budget for work, and picked up about eight games with it from Board Game Guru. We’ve only had a couple of after work sessions so far but have had really fun games of Can’t Stop, Cash n Guns, Love Letter and more. Hopefully I can make it a more regular event in 2017, as well as introducing some slightly more complex games for those who want to step things up a little.

My top individual game plays of 2016

My favourite gaming moments, month by month:

  • January: While this was a far from vintage month, I had some very enjoyable plays of two review titles – New York 1901 and Zombie Tower 3D. Top play will have to go to our first play of Zombie Tower, as it was such an unknown that looked as if it might be totally awful. In fact it turned out to be a clever gimmick that really worked, making for a tense co-op experience with no chance of an alpha player problem.
  • February: Playing Ticket to Ride: Team Asia with my non-gamer friends Nik, Kath and Megan was great fun, with the boys just pipping the girls. But the gaming highlight was a game of Deus with Keef and Claire at SorCon that saw all of us all finish within two points of each other. Claire won it – as she did in a super close game of Concordia the next morning, pipping me by six or seven points.
  • March: I really enjoyed a super close two-player game of Snowdonia with Karl. A long run of sunny weather near the end totally changed the game, as it is want to do, meaning Karl managed to finish a track-laying bonus card that had looked almost impossible a few turns earlier, taking it 154-143. And also a mention for my first play of In the Year of the Dragon – a fantastic old school euro that, if I was adding games to my collection right now, I’d probably be on the hunt for.
  • April: Our biannual trip to Eastbourne saw some debut plays of some great new games – most notably Blood Rage and Star Wars: Rebellion (both of which I managed to win). Blood Rage was particularly pleasing, as I managed to win b y turtling in the most attack-minded game I’ve played in ages. But it was also a month of enjoying great games of old favourites, including Bora Bora, Divinare, Blueprints, Thebes and Yspahan – five games that don’t hit the table nearly often enough.
  • May: The end of Eastbourne saw standout fun plays of both Imperial and Eldritch Horror, but they were pipped by two trips to Rocky’s house in Brixton for fun games of both A Game of Thrones: The Card Game (also with Austin, Obie and Paul) and Doomtown: Reloaded (with Rocky and Austin). There’s something special about playing a really nasty game in completely the right spirit, where the smack talk is almost drowned out by the laughter. Good times.   
  • June: In what was, criminally, my only play of Terra Mystica in the year, I had a rare good game and won by about 15 points. I blew six magic in turn one on a double-spade move to stop getting blocked in: seemed desperate at the time, but probably won me the game as my second settlement was on its own. I traded in 32 cash for 16 points in the final round too, after giving up on largest area but nailing two 1sts and two 2nds in the temples.
  • July: A lazy summer Sunday, as part of a lovely weekend, which included a super close game of Mangrovia that I lost by a single point. But I really didn’t care. 
  • August: It’s always nice when you introduce one of your favourite games to four new players, who all really end up enjoying it. So it was with the last game I played at The Cast are Dice convention up in Stoke. I taught Notre Dame to Keef, Claire, Becks and Fin and – as usual with euro games – Claire took the win. But only just! Becks and Fin kept passing their VP cards to her, leaving her with nine cubes in that section in the last round!
  • September: Fun games of both Deus and Ticket to Ride: Team Asia featured highly again, while a game of Navegador with Morph and Swedish friend Janne ranked highly. But none could top a ding-dong game of Can’t Stop with Janne. I went 2-0 up and just needed two 7s to win. Janne came from about two 7s all the way up in one go to snag them – meaning suddenly he just needed one 6 and one 11 to win. So on my next go I came from three 6s all the way to the top to win the game. Epic.
  • OctoberWhile the obvious answer would be playing the production copy of Armageddon for the first time, I’m actually going to go for a play of Acquire with Rikki Tahta (of Coup fame) and Mark Chessher in London the night before we all made our own ways to Essen. They’re fun guys to play with, the Essen buzz was already in the air, and it was simply a good time with a great game and company.
  • November: I managed just 24 plays in the month (my lowest of the year), with the highlight probably being our second work games night. At the first won, we’d won one game each – except for poor Simon. He’d had quite a ribbing about it since, so arrived for this ready to play – and ended up winning all three games of the night. Love Letter and Celestia were both fun, but Cash ‘n’ Guns was probably the highlight – despite me being blown out of contention (quite literally) very early on.
  • December: My first play of Terraforming Mars has to be the winner here, for pure gaming joy (followed by my first play of Lorenzo il Magnifico). It’s a wonderful game that I can’t wait to explore more (when they get around to reprinting it…), despite making a terrible hash of it and finishing in last place. But introducing Sarah to some games was also a highlight (Ticket to Ride and Can’t Stop), as it may just pave the way for a rather interesting and more positive 2017…

My most played games in 2016

Prototype plays (91) made up around a quarter of my total plays for the year once more. Alongside these I clocked a total of 160 different published games in 2016, 81 of which I only played once (in a grand total of 423 plays). The most played were:

  • 16 – Empire Engine (52 all-time plays)
  • 11 – Ticket to Ride (116 all-time plays, all maps)
  • 8 – Can’t Stop (24 all-time plays)
  • 7 – Race for the Galaxy (256 all-time plays)
  • 7 – Game of Trains & Love Letter (7 & 24)

Race for the Galaxy only just hung in the top 5 this time – but it doesn’t mean I don’t still love it. My review schedule and lack of a regular midweek group still hamper plays of it, but it has already hit the table in 2017 (as has Ticket to Ride). I’ve always got Empire Engine on me, and always seem to be meeting new people, so I’m sure it will continue to get plays as well (I don’t think I’ll be taking Armageddon everywhere – it weighs a ton!).

But as always, a few classics fell through the cracks. Caylus and Brass both sit unplayed since 2014, while favourites not hitting the table in 2016 included Ingenious, Lost Valley, The Little Prince, Manhattan Project (although I did play Energy Empire) and El Gaucho (since rectified!).

And so, to 2017…

Overall, 2016 was a reasonably gaming year both in plays, experiences and releases – with some big highlights slightly overshadowed by my own largely downbeat mood.

But I’m entering 2017 with renewed optimism and there are plenty of gaming highlights in prospect too.

David and me will be at Nuremberg Toy Fair for the first time, hoping to combine some publisher meetings with some fun nights out in the city (which I’ve never visited) with a friend I’ve previously met on trips to Essen (hi Peter!).

SorCon, UK Games Expo, Essen and Eastbourne promise to make February, May, October and November awesome once again, while a tourist/gaming trip to Granada also promises to be a lot of fun in March (we’ll get to go to the real life Alhambra). Plus I have a new ‘friend’ to introduce to the wonderful world of gaming.

I very much hope that Pioneer Days (another co-design with Matthew Dunstan) will be released at some point in 2017, while I’ll still be trying to sell some designs to publishers while working on more new ones. So many ideas, so little time…

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