Board game Top 10: Genuinely important releases since 2015

According to Board Game Geek’s game rating algorithm, 15 of the best games ever have been released since 2015. This is obviously nonsense and has a lot more to do with factors outside the algorithms control (time for an overhaul, me thinks). But it did get me thinking – which releases in the past five years have been genuinely important?

For me, a game can do one (or more) of several things to meet this criteria. But most importantly, in some way, it should move the hobby forward. I feel the games below have done that, so deserve a pat on the back. I’m not saying they all reinvented the wheel. Or are even things I want to play. While some simultaneously arrived with similar offerings. But these feel like they rose to the top in their particular pool.

But to get 10, I had to go well beyond the Top 15. In fact I had to burrow as far as the top 500 or so. They’re in order or their Board Game Geek rankings – nothing else. And while I’m sure I’ll get push back on a few, I think it’s a solid (if at times personal) list. And before people start throwing things, I’m not saying it’s exhaustive. Please feel free to point out the games I’ve missed in the comments below – or why I’m wrong/crazy etc for including certain games over others (just remember – 2015 cut-off).

Top 10 important board games

  • Gloomhaven (BGG Rank: 1)
    More than any other, Gloomhaven has crossed the boundary between a board game and traditional RPG experience. It has a rich, detailed world; evolving characters; and an ongoing story. But also complex card play, involving teamwork, strategy and tactics. Number one game evs? No. But still important.
  • Azul (38)
    Abstracts had been very much overlooked for years before a sudden resurgence in 2017 led by Azul (or arguably the reissue of Santorini the year before). It paved the way for a string of dedicated abstract games to make a real dent in the market, thanks to simple rules being backed by great game play and components.
  • Root (46)
    War games as a genre has a lot to offer the wider gaming community. Root took many of these ideas – asymmetric powers, changing alliances, area control, point-to-point movement – and added a cutesy woodland them. Without taking away any of the nastiness. Flawed, yes – but a massive crossover success.
  • Codenames (62)
    Word and quiz games were in a pretty sad place until Codenames came along in 2015 (Paperback had arrived in 2014, but was a minor release – and probably helped by Codenames since). Loads of great games have followed it, reopening these genres to genuine creative thinking.
  • TIME Stories (73)
    Finally, someone got travel right. A co-operative narrative game, where you rerun the game several times to ‘solve’ the puzzle. But it was one-and-done – play through, then sell it and buy the next adventure using the same base mechanics. A risky sales pitch for a publisher, but successful – and much copied since.

Those outside the Top 100

  • Welcome to… (156)
    Roll-and-write games have exploded in recent years, but aren’t often critically acclaimed. Welcome To… did away with dice, replacing them with cards – changing the dynamic just enough while limiting the luck. It’s now the highest ranked roll-and-write game on BGG, and for me deservedly so.
  • Exit: The Game (179)
    TIME Stories proved one-and-one games were viable – so what better territory to explore than the growing world of escape rooms? This time it was even riskier, as components had to be torn or folded – often losing any resale value. An even bigger risk, but again gamers bought into it because the game was good enough.
  • The Grizzled (324)
    Through simple co-operative card play The Grizzled conjured troubling feelings of the despair of trench warfare in players; evoking history much as Freedom: The Undergrounds Railroad did back in 2012. This was only amplified by the death of the game’s artist, Tignous, in the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.
  • The Mind (531)
    Is it even a game? A topic for another day, perhaps – but its release was certainly a phenomenon. A co-operative game where you play numbered cards in order, simply guessing when to lay based on how long the pauses are between plays. Real tension, real theatre – with real-time deduction. Fascinating, if not for me.
  • XCOM: The Board Game (569)
    If anyone was going to release a game with genuine use of a phone app it was going to be Fantasy Flight – alongside a licence of some sort. While pretty badly flawed, this is certainly proof of concept: a tense, real time co-op game with asymmetric roles creating a real movie feel.

Conclusions

Many highly rated games of this period have been thoroughly enjoyable – but I didn’t feel they brought enough to the party to figure. Even if I like them more.

Others seemed they should be on the list. Pandemic Legacy, for example. But it was 2011’s Risk Legacy that introduced ‘legacy’ to the hobby. But however you view the list, I think these games are worth taking a look at.

And look at the themes here. There’s lots of exploration in the co-operative game field, while also reaching outside of traditional gaming into theatre – exploring emotions through tension, or timing, or asymmetry, or the imagination. And there are still so many avenues to explore. What do you want to see next? I just hope it’s more interesting games – rather than pretty rehashes of old ideas cashing in on this wave of new players.

Board game collection size: Should it stay or should it go?

There is, of course, no optimal board game collection size. Sorry. There are so many contributing factors it’s impossible to narrow to reach a comprehensive calculation. Space, budget, scope of interest. All can vary wildly. As can your level of obsession with the hobby. Then there are collectors – but they’re another breed entirely.

I’d surmise (purely anecdotally) your average new/uncommitted gamer will have 5-20 games and a dedicated gamer 50-200. With the 21-49 range reserved for those slipping from one to the other. Collections from 200-500 are common, but start to move out of practical norms for the majority of people. And beyond we’re into collector territory.

My board game collection size

A few years ago I set myself an arbitrary limit of 150 board and card games. At any given time that could be 140-160, due to games being on sale or waiting for review. Especially around Essen, where a bunch of titles tend to arrive at once.

I say its an arbitrary limit as my own criteria set out above doesn’t really apply to me:

  • I don’t have space limits (I have plenty of space)
  • Budget isn’t an issue (I’m lucky enough to get a lot of games cheap/free)
  • I’m not limited by scope of interest (as a dabbler in design, I like to try new games)

So why bother to set a limit? First, when I got around this number my main board game shelving unit was well and truly full. Second, I realised I wasn’t playing a bunch of games I owned and really liked. And third, there were games sitting there that were very likely never to be picked – so why not give them a loving new home?

I tend to play games 3-400 times in a calendar year. Which is a lot. So, in theory, if I have 150 titles I could conceivably play them all each year. and have room for new games, other people’s games, prototypes etc. It doesn’t happen that way, but to my peace of mind it feels important that it could*.

The ‘one in, one out’ and ‘Jones’ theories

So what do you do once you’ve hit your self (or space/partner etc) prescribed board game collection size? It’s not as if new shinies aren’t going to come along and, you know, HAVE to be bought.

One in, one out makes sense. If you buy a new game, make sure one goes the other way. So it follows – if the new game you’re considering isn’t good enough to oust one you already own, why bother spending money on it?

The Jones Theory (from Game On podcast #16) builds on this. It posits gamers should limit their collections to one game of each type. So any time you want to play a particular type of game, you reach for the one you have – which should be your favourite. You can of course be as granular as you like. So one gamer may have one euro game – while another may have one set collection euro, one worker placement euro, one space-themed worker placement euro… etc.

I definitely follow the first, and loosely the second. There are quite a lot of game types I have have many multiples of, but they’re usually genres I turn yo often and am glad of the variety. Just as a personal preference, I like to have games I play once a year or so. It keeps them fresh – especially if the rules are relatively simple. But using these handy rules still doesn’t cover every collection quandary.

My current board game collection size dilemma

Right now my problem is with Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilisation. A former Top 10 game in my collection, it dropped to its lowest ever ranking this year of 19.

But despite having 150 games, I am currently considering putting a game in my Top 20 on the ‘for sale’ pile. It is undoubtedly a great game. It is ranked number three on the all-time Board Game Geek chart and deservedly so. And I’ve enjoyed some brilliant games of it. So what on earth am I thinking?

First, it is a bitch to teach. There’s a lot going on and you need to know it all from the start. Second, a full game is long. Don’t believe the box – a full two-player game is going to be at least two hours – probably at least three. Add more players, or a teach, and four/five hours is a definite possibility. Third, experience is a BIG help. And as military action is unavoidable, poor players can really be crushed. So despite being a relatively elegant and well brilliantly designed game, it is a fragile playing experience.

In addition, it is well served away from the gaming table. There’s a great approved online implementation at Boardgaming Online. And more recently publisher CGE released a brilliantly realised Through the Ages app for Android, Apple and Steam.

One out – one in…?

I find it very hard to get Through the Ages to the table. I don’t want to teach it and most people I know who play are great because they play regularly – so I get thrashed. But I like owning it – and who knows, maybe one day I’ll find someone to play it with regularly.

But then I played Nations. While similar in scope, theme and length it felt a little more accessible and forgiving. Maybe this could come in, with Through the Ages making way? But in truth the differences are marginal: being a little shorter, a little more accessible and a little less punishing aren’t enough to give it a different audience. You’ll save 10% of the time, and maybe get 10% less crushed. It isn’t enough of a difference: Nations would probably just gather dust rather than Through the Ages.

The decision – and the conclusions

As I’ve written this cathartic blog post, I’ve come to a decision: Through the Ages is going on the ‘for sale’ pile. I have it on Google Play and will probably purchase it on Steam, where I can hopefully find some equally useless players to have close-ish games with as and when I have time to make a few moves.

And the theories hold. I wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for my 150-game limit – but i’m glad I did. And thanks to the Jones Theory I’ve realised I don’t need a game under the ‘loooooong and brutal civ game’ category. At least not on my shelf. Instead, balancing dexterity game Junk Art has taken its place – my first in a new category. And it has already been played and enjoyed.

How’s your collection coming on?

* I’m trying to play all my 150 games this calendar year. It’s going better than expected (nearly 100 played) and has helped weed out several other games. There’s been some room for sentiment (I never play Brass, but aspire to…) – but not too much. I’ll post more about this ‘challenge’ once the year is out.

Azul board game: A four-sided review

Azul is an abstract family board game for two to four players. It takes less than an hour to play, works at all player counts and is a doddle to teach. Anyone can play, but there’s also plenty for a serious gamer to get their teeth into.

Released in 2017, it won the 2018 Spiel des Jahres (alongside numerous other top awards) and is ranked in the Top 50 games of all time at Board Game Geek.

Inside the striking box you’ll find four large (24x24cm) double-sided player boards, nine round beer mat-sized boards, four wooden cubes, 101 thick plastic tiles (one a start player marker) and a cloth bag to put them in. The colourful art and design are taken from Moorish art and architecture, giving it a unique look. While the board quality is average, the tiles (which look like Bakelite) make the game stand out on the table.

The overall production is both tactile and gorgeous, which has helped the Azul board game become one of the biggest releases of recent years. And at less than £30 its good value for money – especially as the tiles seem practically indestructible. But does the game play match up to the design quality?

Teaching the Azul board game

The rulebook barely stretches to five heavily illustrated pages and is simple to teach as that might suggest. Plus, there’s no hidden information, so you can easily walk players through the first rounds giving advice.

Setup sees 5/7/9 factory displays (read: beer mats) placed in a circle in the middle of the table, depending on player count. The 100 tiles (20 in each of five colours) are placed in the bag and four randomly placed on each mat. Everyone grabs a player board (they’re identical), and one player the start player marker.

The start player now chooses one of the mats and takes all the tiles of one colour from it, pushing any other tiles that were on it into the middle of the table. They also place the first player marker in the centre of the table with the unwanted tiles (if any). They then place the tiles they chose on their player board.

Instead of taking tiles from a mat, you can instead take all tiles of one colour from the middle of the table. The first player to do so also takes the first player marker for the next round. This tile goes into one of your negative score slots (see below), but can definitely be worth doing. You always have to take tiles, and always all available of the colour you choose in the place you take them from.

Placing your tiles

The player board has five lines to put them in, of 1,2,3,4 & 5 spaces respectively. Each line can only hold tiles of one colour, and all tiles placed in the same turn must go in the same line. If you take three black tiles and only place two in a line, the other one is going to be wasted. You can have more than one row of the same colour – you just can’t place tiles taken in a single turn in different lines.

Wasted tiles are where the game comes into its own. More on this later, but for now know your board has seven spaces at the bottom for these wasted tiles. The first couple will lose you one point, the next ones two and the last few three. So, it is possible to lose 14 points in each round of the game.

Once all tiles have been taken, players simultaneously score. Any line you’ve filled is emptied, with one of the tiles moved to your 5×5 grid scoring area. It will immediately score you points, but will also score bonuses at the end if you’ve completed rows, columns or colours. You take off any negative points, then refill the mats and go again. Play continues until, after scoring, a player has completed at least one row (usually five to seven rounds). The player with the most points wins.

The four sides

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

  • The writer: The Azul board game is the poster child for simple yet emergent game play. The fact each colour can only be scored once per line starts to limit you – especially as completing a colour is desirable, as its worth 10 points. But all your options recede as the game goes on, just with harsher penalties connected to bigger/riskier scoring opportunities. You can try and rush the game in five turns (by quickly completing a row), but this is hard to score well. So in a simple game structure there are multiple paths to victory – but none easy to pull off.
  • The thinker: The reverse of the player board has a blank grid. Each line can still only have one of each colour. But you can choose where they go within that line as you complete them. For me, this opens up your options in how to build your score. But it also limits how much your opponents can easily predict which colour you may go for (they can, but it needs more thought). This extra layer makes an already satisfying game even more so, and in such a simple way. And as it lasts a little over 30 minutes, and sets up/packs down easily, it is a near perfect filler.
  • The trasher: When I first started playing I thought great, another boring abstract. But as the options shrank and it became clear someone was going to get screwed – boom! The real Azul revealed itself. As rounds progress, you start to see how many turns (so sets of tiles) you’ll have to take. But you can rarely be sure until near the end. It’s then a balancing act of what you need versus what you can possibly take. And equally importantly, what will leave your opponents in the deepest doo-doo. Once you start to understand this, you realise that planning a big score is pointless without weighing the consequences of some big negative points. And then you understand just how clever the game is.
  • The dabbler: Firstly, this game is beautiful. From the art to the tiles, it’s the perfect package. Next, it’s easy to learn – and with a theme that would very rarely put a non-gamer off. It works as a very quick two-player game or a slightly longer game with more, but never outstays it’s welcome. And finally it generates conversation and banter: you can chat about what to take, revel in each other’s misfortunes, but till congratulate clever moves. It can be a mean game, sure – but it doesn’t feel as if you’re being picked on. so, all round, this is a real winner.

Key observations

You’ve probably guessed which side of this I’m coming down on… but there are some naysayers. One obvious (and understandable) objection is the meanness. Azul isn’t a game you can play co-cooperatively, as it’s built around the tension of being stuck with tiles you don’t want. So, if you really don’t like games with in-built conflict, Azul may not be for you. But it’s good enough I’d still suggest giving it a go.

Other criticisms are similarly viable. Some players don’t like abstract games; others want their conflict to be clearly personal. Others must have a longer, more complex game; or one where you can plan more in advance. Again, to each his own. These are not criticisms – more statements of what a player likes and dislikes. So again, if you fall into these camps, the game may not be for you.

As one player said, rating it 2-out-of-10: “I can see why this game is so popular, but it’s not for me.” Fair play to them. But at the time of writing, just over 100 people had rated Azul as a three or less. More than 20,000 have rated it 8 or higher.

Conclusion: Azul board game

As someone who dabbles with game design, it’s releases such as Azul that remind me why I bother. Game design is an oft thankless task. You slave for hours on something you think is worthwhile in the hope it will make at least a splash. Just wanting people to enjoy it, knowing the chances of making any real money are slim to none. You have to think of it as a hobby, even if you hope for more. Then you watch another film tie-in Monopoly sully the shelves of your local ginorm-o-store and think – why bother?

This is why. Because, one day, I may put together a bunch of ideas that 20,000 fellow gamers think is outstanding. That sells enough copies to actually register as a blip on my bank statement. Played by gamers and non-gamers alike. And sure, before you say it – I know it’s incredibly unlikely. But if you can equip an army of monkeys with typewriters, why not dice and cards…?

* Looking for more games? Check out 150+ more board and card game reviews.

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…