Books wot I red – short story special: Christopher Fowler, Philip K Dick & Ted Chiang

Welcome to volume something-or-other in a fairly irregular series of ‘what I’ve been reading’ posts. It’s another year past and, as with the last post, I’ve only managed to read three books. But on the plus side, this time I have a THEME (exciting)!

I had a few collections of short stories knocking around that all looked brilliant, so I decided to read them all in a row in order to then create that rarest of things for me – a coherent books post. It meant only knocking off one of my top five ‘next on the list’ books (see below), but there you go. Anyway, here it is…

It started off, as my irregular soirées into reading so often do, with a Bryant & May book: this time London’s Glory by Christopher Fowler. After 13 fantastic novels, Fowler had seen fit to share this collection of shorter stories about my favourite pensionable London crime-fighting duo, and who was I to argue? I’ll take by B&M fix any way I can.

These 11 stories can be seen as a great introduction to the series for anyone not too sure if they could eat a whole one; or a fun little sidetrack for fans, as each story is preface by a little introduction from the author on how and why the little episodes came about. And while I really enjoyed the book a a whole, something niggled at me throughout.

For those who don’t know the series, the majority of the Bryant & May books centre around two elderly policemen and the small, unorthodox unit they run in central London: the Peculiar Crimes Unit. They’ve been working there since the Second World War, being given strange crimes that need to be solved before they get out to the public due to their unusual nature. The stories tend to nit towards the supernatural but don’t really go there, instead being fascinating insights into both the strange history of London and the human condition. But at least half the enjoyment comes from the characters themselves, and in particular our two slightly decrepit heroes.

So why did I struggle a little with London’s Glory? Usually the two officers play beautifully off each other’s strengths, with Bryant’s unusual methodologies being perfectly offset by May’s more straight-laced police work and his ability to read Bryant – while always also trying to keep him at least a little on track. But here, with so little time to tell each tale, it was more the Bryant show – with May little more than a bumbling Watson-esque character asking the dumbfounded, “How did he do that?” questions.

Also, while the one story featuring Janice Longbright as its main character was a great read, it highlighted what an opportunity missed this was to do more with some of the lesser known but equally well loved side characters. Hopefully these things will be addressed in future collections. I’m particularly hoping for a story featuring Bryant’s landlady Alma, but I won’t hold my breath…

Next came Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. It came to my attention after being blown away by the film Arrival, which was based on the short story (Story of Your Life) from which this collection takes its name. That film had such a fundamental affect on me, I had to read more.

Overall I found the collection frustrating. Chiang is a good writer who has some brilliant ideas for stories, but doesn’t seem to be able to turn them into satisfying endings. Either that, or they’re just academic meanderings that went well over my head.

Opener ‘Tower of Babylon’, for example, painted a fascinating story only to totally botch the landing. ‘Story of Your Life’ was much better realised as the brilliant film Arrival, where the additional plot helped create a more interesting overall narrative. The rest failed on various levels, always hinting at greatness but letting me down somewhere.

But I’m glad I stuck with the collection, as ‘Hell is the Absence of God’ was the most fascinating story of the lot. Essentially it asks, how would we deal with ideas of faith and immortality if we actually new God and the afterlife existed? Again I found the ending unsatisfying, but the story made me think enough that I enjoyed it.

But overall – for me – this was largely a collection of potentially interesting ‘what if?’ stories from a good writer, with good ideas, but a lack of ability in the storytelling department. I gave up during the final story because it was simply boring, and I wouldn’t return to his work unless it was very highly recommended. So overall, I’m glad I gave him a try but I was ultimately left disappointed.

Last up was We Can Remember it for you Wholesale by Philip K Dick. I’d recently watched ‘Electric Dreams’, the series of television adaptations of Dick’s short stories; and while it was fairly hit and miss, it did a great job of highlighting what great vision he’d had. As I had this collection on my shelf, it jumped to the top of the pile.

What I soon realised was, I should’ve bought a ‘best of’. This collection in one of a series that collate all his short stories, so is by no means the cream of the crop. But it does include the title story (which was the inspiration for the Total Recall films). And there were enough other interesting stories to make me glad I stuck with it.

My problems with the book largely stemmed from a similar recent reaction I had to TV series Madmen. I know, generally, people had a very different attitude to racism, sexism etc in the 50s and 60s. But while it’s historic fact, I really don’t like to watch/read it in action. Especially coming from the mind of such a visionary. A story where a woman is being sexually tricked into a bunker, for example; or racial references to ‘a black’; just rub me up the wrong way. Sure, it’s me – but I struggle to get past it.

On the plus side, there are many glimpses here of Dick’s powerful imagination in full flow. The War With the Fnools (about an alien race which can mimic our appearance – but who are only a few feet high); Return Match (about an evolving alien pinball machine); The Electric Ant (a robot that thought it was a man finding out the truth). They do what good sci-fi does – make you think. And this despite feeling a little folksy due to the weird things the author seemed to think would still be popular (snuff, for example).

But there’s one thing all three of these books brought to the forefront of my mind, especially We Can Remember it for You Wholesale. The short story is essentially the first act of Total Recall – Hollywood kept the interesting, insightful essence and made a sprawling classic with it. Just as they did with Blade Runner. So as we suffer yet another Spiderman reboot, I have to ask: why aren’t more screenwriters exploring the well of these brilliant visions? Do they not read anymore? Hopefully the success of Arrival will send some of them off to the library, rather than back through the list if top grossing re-imaginable movie blockbusters.

What’s next on the list?

I only knocked off number one this time around, due to the ‘theme’, so little has changed. Fowler is still writing faster than I read (I read for a living – which means doing it after work is less fun/desirable than it should be!) but I’ve not put the latest Bryant & May onto the list, as I didn’t want to knock anything off. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be bucking the list and reading it anyway. Its just sitting there, staring…

  1.  The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Third time on the list and now up to top spot. Over the past six months or so, Douglas Adams and this wonderful book have kept cropping up. Clearly no coincidence – it must be time to re-read this classic.
  2. Rules of Prey by John Sandford. Also third time on the list. A New York Times bestselling author; a thriller said to be packed full of suspense; and a lead character who is cop as well as a game designer? Take my money! Bound to be a disappointment.
  3. Dice Games Properly Explained by Reiner Knizia. Guess what? Yup – third time on the list. I bought this some time ago on recommendation, and my game design mojo has been somewhat invigorated of late, so it’s about time I got around to reading it.
  4. The Communist Manifesto by Marx & Engels. Second time on the list. Hard to believe I’ve never actually read this, despite it sitting on my shelves for years – and me having done a degree covering sociology! While I understand what Marxism and communism are, it’s time I read the true source material.
  5. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. New entry! I heard loads of good things about this, and found it in a charity shop cheap as chips, so finger’s crossed it will live up to the hype.

Teotihuacan board game: A four-sided review

Teotihuacan board game

Teotihuacan: City of Gods* is a medium-heavy weight euro game from Daniele Tascini – half the design duo that brought us Tzolk’in and Marco Polo.

The game has nicely drawn Aztec style art, but this is most definitely a mechanics driven game with a pasted-on theme. It’ll take 1-4 players around 90-120 minutes to play once you know the ropes.

It has proven very popular, already hitting the Top 100 games on Board Game Geek (and being named in four categories for its annual awards for 2018); and winning the Dice Tower award for Best Strategy Game 2018. So what’s all the fuss about?

In the box you’ll find a large main board, six action boards (to place on main board spaces for ‘replayability’), 32 lovely wooden pyramid tiles, 100+ smaller cardboard tiles, another 100+ wooden pieces and 16 dice. So at around £35, it seems pretty good value for money. And the quality of pieces and iconography is generally fine throughout.

That said, while quite pretty, the main board is overly busy and not designed for purpose. In a game where players move dice around a board, there are no set areas for dice. It can be hard to place them without covering up something important – or spreading them out, making it harder to work out what’s where.

Teaching Teotihuacan

From one angle, the Teotihuacan board game looks like a simple rondel-style euro game with short, snappy turns. The extra level of complexity comes from the fact you each have multiple workers at varying usefulness (they ‘level up’ as you use them); and the more workers (from different players) there are on a space, the more an action costs – or the more cocoa (needed to do actions) you can gather.

On most turns you’ll move a dice up to three spaces clockwise around the eight-space board to complete an action. Three spaces give a particular resource (wood, stone, gold). Three more match them to spend resources on an action to get stuff (building houses, or building/decorating the pyramid). Often, having some of your workers already there lets you beef up the action. Once you’ve done an action, you usually upgrade one (or two) worker dice.

The seventh action lets you learn a technology (get a bonus/discount when you use particular actions). The eighth lets you ‘lock’ a worker for an immediate and often strong bonus (several other areas also have lock spaces). Getting technologies can be great – if you remember you have them. Unfortunately you only mark this on the main board, so have no reminders in front of you that you’ve got them. Locked dice don’t count as being in the action space (for working out cocoa costs/gains). But also can’t be moved until you free them (see below) or another player locks into the same space (handily kicking you out for free).

When not moving to do an action, you’ll either be moving to claim cocoa or taking a turn to free up any locked workers (the latter is basically ‘miss a go’, as you can unlock those workers by paying some cocoa instead – a free action that doesn’t use up your turn).

As you may be starting to realise, cocoa is important. Whenever you use a space for its main action, you’ll pay one cocoa per colour of dice there. But instead you can move to a space and instead gain one cocoa per different coloured dice (plus one, so up to five). Even if you keep your cocoa spend down, you’ll still need it to ‘feed’ your worker dice three times during the game (during two mid-game scorings and the final scoring).

Anyway, back to main actions and upgrading dice. Higher value dice later give you more efficient use of particular actions (extra resources, points, or better actions). But these improved workers ‘ascend’ on becoming a six – being returned to being a lowly one after giving you a pretty meaty choice of bonuses.

After the euro game standard of 20-25 turns/actions, the player with the most points wins. Most points are scored in-game by spending those resources on building. But you’ll also be moving up three temple tracks (see: Tzolk’in) which can give you some chunky end game bonus points.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: Much as with a Rosenberg euro, the Teotihuacan board game spends a lot of time giving shoutouts to previous Tascini title Tzolk’in (start tiles, god tracks, and the two-steps-forward-one-step-back action/gain resources/buy stuff/get improvements play). But for me Teotihuacan lacks the tension, the action blocking interaction and the originality/imagination of its predecessor. Everything works, but much feels laboured and players constantly forgot little details due to the fiddliness of the rules (a cocoa here, a victory point there etc). The busy board, lack of player boards and lack of player aids all contribute to this too.
  • The thinker: There are elements of luck that rub me the wrong way. With less than four players, dummy dice make up the numbers – placed on random spaces that only change (if at all) twice. This means certain strategies can become prohibitively expensive with no way to mitigate it. Also, some decorations and pyramid tiles give temple bonuses while others don’t. This should be a fun puzzley aspect of the game, but the lack of choice and control makes it frustrating. You can’t wait for the right tiles, as the good ones are universally good, So again, luck can screw you. Add random bonus tiles on several spaces, it becomes a medium-heavy game with a light game’s luck. For me this clever, thoughtful design needed sharpening to reach its full potential.
  • The trasher: Teotihuacan is a surprisingly tactical game. Rather than your plan, you’ll often go for cheap actions and big cocoa grabs as they appear. Planning can be futile, as the board state changes a surprising amount between turns. A player adding taking cocoa increases the chances the next player will do the same to cash in – and the next. So a space can go from cheap to expensive in a single round. I still didn’t enjoy the game much. This oft accidental player interaction is all there is. Otherwise, it’s just another resource conversion euro game.
  • The dabbler: You want me to watch a one-hour rules explanation? No thanks!

Teotihuacan solo play

The solo rules for the Teotihuacan board game involve setting the game us as for two players, then using a bot to play your opponent. The bot is simple to operate: an action is chosen from a small pyramid of six tiles controlled by two dice. Once taken, a seventh action replaces the one used in a pyramid and a randomiser shows which way the pyramid is reorganised. In this way all the actions will eventually be used, unless you have some really freaky dice rolling.

What the actions do is more complicated than I’d like. There are rules to follow for each: if the bot has W, do X; if it doesn’t, but it has Y, do Z; otherwise do A. But the system works well, and once you get used to how the actions trigger it quickly becomes second nature. So if you’re a fan of complex euro game solo modes, and like the sound of the game generally, I think you’ll have a lot of fun with this clever system.

Key observations

The Teotihuacan board game is currently rated in the Top 100 games on Board Game Geek (rating an average of 8 out of 10 from more than 5,000 players). It has won/been nominated for several awards. Only 10% of raters give it a 6 or less – with the same amount giving it a maximum 10 score. But still, it isn’t for everyone.

Naysayers claim the game is dry and repetitive, having little narrative arc. They also dislike the luck elements, find the actions fiddly and inelegant. And describe the game as ‘just another euro puzzle’. And finally, the lack of interaction and ability to plan make the game drag. I’d go along with all of these, sadly; so what are we not seeing?

Fans talk of many paths to victory and regular tough, deep, challenging decisions. A tight economy, much replayability (there are many ways to vary setup), and the quality of the solo bot version. But even these ’10’ reviews come with caveats. Best with four players (I presume due to the dummy dice); better after many plays (which games today can’t afford to need); a bit fiddly etc. That said, for most players looking for the heavy euro game experience, Teotihuacan is clearly hitting the right spots.

But be warned for early plays: certain paths can, at first glance, look like viable ones to victory – collecting masks, locking/unlocking multiple workers to go up the god tracks etc. But by the end of the first scoring round, you’ll realise ignoring certain other elements of the game is suicidal. Unfortunately, by then, you’re out of the game – and have an hour of play left. Some will view this as a challenge – they’ll nail it next time. Others will zone out, never wanting it to darken their doorstep again. You’ll just have to grade your own group. And perhaps point out that, despite all the choices, certain things need to be done to do well.

A final thing that made me giggle. One ’10’ rating fan says one of the challenges is “remembering where your tech applies, as well as the steps you have to take every turn”. One person’s ‘challenges’ are another’s production oversights, I guess.

Teotihuacan board game conclusion

Over five games I played the Teotihuacan board game with six different people (two of them twice each). While only one player hated it, no one loved it. We’d all play it again, bar that one guy. But when I offered it up for sale to any of them at a very good price, no one wanted to take me up on it.

I point this out because the game has done exceedingly well. And I didn’t want anyone to think I’d played this in isolation, or after my favourite pet had died, or with some miserable mid-level-game-hating depressives. As with every game, millage will vary – but for my main groups of euro game players, this one roundly fell flat. We do tend to like slightly lighter games. But Through the Ages, Terra Mystica and Tzolk’in are all popular choices for game days.

The game works, in terms of rules; but for us it was an uninspiring collection of existing mechanisms. It looks OK, feels OK, and is well priced. But was fiddly, kinda bland (except the cool pyramid) and too rules/exceptions heavy for what it was. For me, all the best/clever parts are taken from simpler games that use them better. So for me its a solid 6, but a pass. I’ll stick with Tzolk’in.

* Thanks to NSKN Games (via Asmodee UK) for providing a copy for review.

Cardboard time machine: My 2009 in life and board games

(If you want the story so far, please check out the 2008 post)

It’s fair to say 2009 was a pretty significant year. I moved back to Cambridge and started a new job in the first week of January. It was a friend’s small startup – which is now a fairly large (60 staff) digital marketing company. And i’m still working there today. I also bought my first flat and met a new girlfriend (who moved in later in the year).

Zoe was up for playing some games too; as were some old (and new) friends. Two of them (Carl and Andy) lived in the same shared house, so a weeknight game night was born. My Blokus and Ingenious were played alongside Carl’s Munchkin and Zombies!!! Until April, that is, when I purchased Race for the Galaxy. It’s fair to say that purchase changed everything…

The occasional meetup turned into a regular weekly session and in September I recorded 42 board game plays (across eight different games). I was happy to buy new games as long as these guys were happy to play them – while Zoe and I were enjoying plays of the lighter stuff at the flat too. Board Game Geek was becoming my most visited website and an interest was rapidly turning into a habit hobby.

My game plays in 2009

Even at the start of the year I was recording my plays religiously on Board Game Geek, and have done ever since. I’ve always loved stats and this site gave me so much in that department for so little input.

Over the year I recorded 163 plays covering 14 different games. Of these only Munchkin (12 plays) and Zombies!!! (5) were Carl’s. And as our tastes matured, they pretty quickly dropped out of the rotation. My 2008 purchases Ingenious (9 plays) and Blokus Duo (11) continued to be regulars on the table and I still own both today. The rest of the plays were of games I picked up during the year.

We recorded a staggering 74 plays of Race for the Galaxy that year – almost all of them three-player. We all totally fell in love with the game, regularly playing three or four games in a session (we play slow, so that would be the whole evening). But no, I never tried to teach it to poor Zoe! I also enjoyed 14 plays of Guillotine and seven of the original Carcassonne. I have good memories of both, but neither is still in my collection. The latter was replaced by Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers, which I still enjoy.

Other notable additions were Arkham Horror (7 plays), Ticket to Ride (6), Pandemic (6) and Mystery Rummy: Jekyll and Hyde (3). Ticket to Ride will figure large in later years; but it was the peak for Arkham and Pandemic. It was fascinating to explore how much variety there was in the hobby, but none of us really took to the euro co-op feel of Pandemic (great design though). While the great fun we had with Arkham was always tempered by the constant trips to the rulebook for fiddly exceptions.

My hindsight Top 10 Games of 2009

As I’ve gone into detail on in my Best games of 2009 post, for me this wasn’t a vintage year for releases. But I thought it would be fun to see, just two months on, if I picked the same games in the same order (it was very close):

  1. Egizia: Classic euro, coming back into print this year.
  2. Macao: Sometimes frustrating but always fun Feld game.
  3. Finca: An original and puzzley take on the rondel mechanism.
  4. Maori: A clever take on classic tile-laying.
  5. Endeavor: Worker placement, area control and clever scoring.
  6. Verflixxt! Kompakt: A daft roll-and-move that makes it work.
  7. Tales of the Arabian Nights: Pure storytelling nonsense.
  8. Campaign Manager 2008: Clever push-and-pull card play.
  9. Masters Gallery: Auctions auctions auctions.
  10. Jaipur: Quite a lot of two-player fun in a pretty small box.

I didn’t play any 2009 releases in the year itself – although I did pick up the Rebel vs Imperium expansion for Race for the Galaxy hot off the presses. One thing interesting to note is that Egizia, Finca and Endeavor have all enjoyed recent successful Kickstarter reissues – which means I must have a vague clue what I’m talking about!

Honourable mentions to Tobago (which I got recently but have only played two-player – not good – but still have high hopes for) and Cards Against Humanity (to which I’ve cried with laughter – and to which I’m sure I’ll turn to again in the right company).

The year’s end

Thankfully this time, 2009 ended with as much promise as it had begun. I was a year into the new job and all was going swimmingly. Zoe had moved in and all was grand, and a few flat disasters (including a Christmas burst pipe flooding fiasco) had done little to dampen (ho ho) my spirits. But my 40th was looming large in the next calendar year. Was a mid-life crisis just around the corner? See you in 2010…

Welcome To board game: A four-sided game review

Welcome to… board game* is a roll-and-write game (think Yahtzee) with a difference – the difference being, it uses cards instead of dice. Each game lasts less than 30 mins.

The box says 1-100 players, and while it can be played solo the realistic player range is more like 2-6 (although in a group setting you could probably double that).

In the small (eight-inch square) box you’ll find 110 cards, four player aids and a pack of 100 player sheets. There’s also an app link where you can instead have the player sheet on your phone. It has been met with mixed responses, but hey – it’s a free app so there’s no harm in seeing if it works for you.

The theme sees players planning and building housing estates during the 1950s baby boom. The art style reflects this perfectly, while the iconography is clear and the components high quality. For a game that costs around £20, I don’t think people will have any complaints about value for money.

Teaching Welcome to…

Players each take a score sheet (depicting three streets of houses, with 10/11/12 houses respectively) and the 81 construction cards are split into three even piles.

You also draw three (city plan) scoring cards from a set of 29, which give players a steer in terms of available bonuses. The first player to complete each gets a nice points boost, but all players can still complete each plan for a slightly smaller reward.

As the game begins, one of the construction cards from each pile is flipped over. Each card has a number on one side and an action on the other. You place the flipped cards next to their draw pile, giving you three number/action combos to choose from. Each player picks one of these combos, and marks off the appropriate parts of their sheet. Cards are numbered 1-15, with much higher numbers of the middling numbers (there are only three each of numbers 1&2 but nine number 8s, for example).

There are six different actions in Welcome To. ‘Surveyors’ allow you to draw fences, splitting your roads into estates that help score many of the planning cards (and end game points). The ‘agent’ allows you to score more for these estates (so you may use an estate card to increase the points you’ll get for two-house estates). Each road has a parks track and some houses with pools. The ‘landscaper’ allows you to mark off the next tree number, giving bonuses if you put enough in the same street, the ‘pool manufacturer’ pays if you build pools in the right homes.

The ‘temp agency’ and ‘bis’ actions are more like get-out-of-jail cards. The temp agency allows you to change its respective number card by 0,1 or 2 digits, helping you fill awkward spaces. Similarly, bis allows you to put the same number next to one already written (you usually have to make each road run from low left to high right, with gaps allowed but no duplication).

Eventually though, someone is likely to run out of options. Your second failure to write a number on your sheet loses you a few points and the third ends the game. Otherwise, the game ends when a player has completed all three roads. The ways you score are clearly marked out across the bottom of each player sheet. Simply add up your points and whoever managed to get the highest score is the winner.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I’m cynical about roll-and-writes, as most fall flat for me, but this (and Ganz Schon Clever) really won me over. Using cards means you can play the odds, while they’ve done a great job of using the extra art space. As with most games of this style, Welcome To also works well solo. It works as in the expert variant (see below): draw three cards, use two in any combination and try to beat your high score.
  • The thinker: The advanced variant adds quite a bit too, giving trickier city plans to complete and another way to get out of trouble – but that costs you. The added expert rules see each player instead drawing three cards and using two (in any combination). You pass the remaining card to your neighbour, then draw two cards for a new hand of three. This gives something else to think about, pushing your decision space up a notch. Not a favourite, but a very solid filler.
  • The trasher: The ultimate in multiplayer solitaire – sorry, but there’s nothing for me here. In fairness the theme is nicely done and the game looks cute. But for me a game with literally no interaction isn’t much of a game. And no, I don’t think the expert version really counts as interaction. At least it is as short as the box suggests, so I guess it’s just about passable as a filler!
  • The dabbler: Loved it! From the incidental card details (some of the cards have dogs, cats etc on them) to the player aids (thematic adverts). There’s so much attention to detail. But it’s great fun to play too! A few of the actions can be a little tricky to remember at first, and the player aid is sadly lacking (it confused more than helped lol). But after you’ve played through once everyone will have the hang of it.

Key observations

Some complain Welcome To… takes a long time to teach and/or is difficult to explain. While it isn’t as simple as many roll-and-writes, I’d suggest the problem is the teachers. This is the kind of game you should play and teach, rather than explain for 30 minutes. Once players have done each action they should be fine – and they’ll do that by playing.

Complaints the game is tedious, with no interaction, are valid for certain types of player. If you have to have players at each other’s throats to have fun this is definitely not for you. And the same if you don’t like multiplayer solitaire games. Horses for courses.

One concern I do share is the lack of variety in scoring cards. I’d be surprised if anyone played just the basic game more than once (unless with non-gamers or children). And the advanced plans are limited in scope. What the lack of dice luck adds in strategy it of course takes away in tactical play, which could lead to people making very similar decisions. Thankfully a raft of score sheet/score card expansions are arriving in 2019 – from zombie outbreaks to ice cream trucks…

Conclusion: Welcome to… board game

I didn’t go into Welcome to… expecting too much, having been won over by the style rather than the mechanics. But boy was I wrong. The game is now up into the Top 20 family games on board Game Geek on merit. Simple, stylish and just thinky enough to engage a gamer. It’s one for the euro-style gamer, with lots of ways to score and less luck than normal. But also accommodates a wide number of players while only lasting half an hour. Great stuff.

For 150+ more like this, visit my board game reviews page.

* Thanks to Blue Cocker Games (via Asmodee UK) for providing a copy of the game for review.

My Top 50 game list stats for 2019

Dig board game stats? This post is for you! Well, it’s for me really. I just wanted to take a look at some stats around my annual Top 50 games list, going back through the six years of numbers. I found it fascinating. Buy your millage may vary…

Ins and outs

This year saw seven new entries into the Top 50, plus one re-entry – and only five were 2018 releases. That’s a little below average, but I didn’t think 2018 was a very good year for new releases (in genres I like). As I get longer in the tooth, it’s also less likely new games will impress. And the same goes for older ones I missed first time around.

Forty-one games have dropped out of my Top 50 (and not returned) since I started; about nine per year. But of those only 13 have left my collection – a testament to the fact a lot of games I still really like sit just off the list. Re-entry Basari is a good example: it made it back this year after a couple of great plays. Sometimes a game just needs plays to get back on the radar. So many great games, so little time!

Evergreens and reviews

A total of 20 of the Top 50 have been on the list every year since I started back in 2014: Brass and Copycat having fallen from that list this year. Four (Race, Ticket to Ride, Ra and Terra Mystica) have been in the top 10 the entire time, with four more being top 20 constants. At the other end of the scale, Archaeology, Macao, Decathlon and Maori have been in the top 50 for six years without ever making the top 20.

I’ve written reviews for 32 of the Top 50 – the highest percentage yet. Only one game sits unreviewed in the Top 10, with two more in the Top 20. I’ll do my best to rectify that in the coming months, which tend to be a little slower for releases. I’ve also promised myself to bring even less games home from Essen this year. I did pretty well last time, but was still reviewing games deep into this year I’d picked up in October 2018.

Years and designers

Two games from the 1980s and four from the 90s joined 18 from the the 2000s on the list – leaving just over half (26) coming from the twenty-teens. I recently posted about 2009 not being a veteran year for game releases – but 2008 is the earliest year not represented with a game on my list. 2012 (a great year for euro games) joined 2018 at the top with five releases; with 2016, 2007 and 2004 having four each.

In terms of designers Uwe Rosenberg, Vlada Chvatil, Dirk Henn, Gunter Burkhardt and Mac Gerdts all have two games in my Top 50. Just pipping them is Reiner Knizia with three, but out in front is Stefan Feld with four. I think most of the classic designers make it to the list: add to them Vaccarino, Cathala, Kiesling, Kramer, Dorra, Moon, Sackson, Wrede. It’s a pretty good list!

Getting them played

Adios Calavera was my most played game in the Top 50 over the last 18 months (since January 2018), with 24 plays. Six other games from my Top 20 have seen 10 or more plays in that time – with the most played from 21-50 being Gnomopolis, Kingdomino (both eight plays), Patchwork and Maori (both on seven). My all-time plays list is dominated by Race for the Galaxy and Ticket to Ride with over 400 plays between them. Ra and Ingenious (both also in the Top 20) are also beyond 50 plays each.

Everything in the Top 10 has been played at least twice since Jan ’18, but two of the Top 20 (Twilight Struggle and Through the Ages) haven’t been played at all. In terms of all-time plays, only three of my Top 20 (and none in the Top 10) have been played less than 10 times: Caverna, Twilight Struggle (both six plays) and Yokohama (five). Five other Top 50 games haven’t hit the table in the last 18 months – but I’m working on it!

My challenge for 2019

I started this in January but haven’t spoken about it on the blog – probably because I knew it was wholly unrealistic: I’m trying to play all the games in my collection this year. And I’ve been doing pretty well. I’m about halfway and it’s about half way through the year – but with more than 70 to go, and Essen looming large, I’m sure I won’t make it. But it has been a great exercise in getting some older games played again – and has led to a more than a few hitting the trade pile.

Whatever doesn’t get played in 2019 will be the shortlist for 2020. And who knows? Maybe some of them will follow in Basari’s footsteps and be back up into my Top 50 again this time next year.