A Christmas ‘cheers’ for your support: 10 years of going, playing and listening

I just wanted to say a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to you all for coming to visit my little corner of the internet. Whether you’ve just landed here for the first time by mistake, or if you’re a regular who gets alerts when I post. All the same, seeing the visitor numbers makes the whole endeavour feel worthwhile and I hope you get whatever it is you came here looking for.

GoPlayListen had its 10th anniversary in October. Back in 2011 the title made more sense. I started the blog to be a place for me to write about whatever was on my mind. And back then that was equally likely to be going somewhere, or playing/listening to something cool – and often all three in the same weekend. I even wrote about moving to a new town, running, football and all sorts of things. But over time it became a pure(ish) board gaming blog.

2020 was the blog’s most successful year for visits, after a few wobbly years. I thought it might be a one-off, but this year should roughly equal it (update: beat it!). This is even better because it has been consistent throughout. Where last year, I had a few weirdly strong months making the rest of it look better than it was. It’ll equate to about 50,000 visits for the year. Nothing by interweb standards, but pretty good for a one man band in a niche category. Especially with only a largely ignored Facebook page to back it up on them there socials. But remember – you can help by clicking here before visiting and buying via Board Game Prices 🙂

Gaming in a COVID world

I ducked out of gaming resolutions last year due to COVID. And as nothing has changed, I’m skipping them again. I was hoping to do a 100×1 challenge. The idea is to play 100 different games from your collection, choosing games you’ve neglected – which is loads, due to limited play chances. But I’m struggling to get one meetup a month arranged, let alone one/two per week, so simply can’t commit. Any game time I have is spent on games I’m reviewing from Essen. Thankfully so far they’ve largely been great games.

I guess it should be no surprise my most viewed post this year was my Top 10 games at online board game website Board Game Arena. Where so many of us have had to do a lot of our gaming during the pandemic. I actually wrote the list in June 2020 and its amazing how much they’ve added since. I’d only include a couple of those games in a top 10 now. So should really get around to doing an updated post…

But I’m rambling. Thanks again for visiting. And to any publishers fishing around to find their Essen game reviews – sorry! If you can’t see them, they’ll be coming early next year. Just as long as I can actually get some people round to play them. Have a great festive period, a fun new year – and here’s to a slightly less virusy 2022…

Twitter’s continued failure to deal with racism – I’m out

I cancelled my Twitter account today after last weekend’s intolerable abuse of three English football players in the Euro 2020 final. I’m not going to get into that. All right-minded people condemn the abuse. But I did want to explain why I felt the need to leave Twitter.

Doing so isn’t really a hardship. And with just over 500 people ‘following’ me, it’s not going to shake its foundations. But as many use it as their primary social media platform, I wanted to explain my reasoning. But it’s a personal decision with no judgements attached to those still using it.

I’m also aware that, by using Facebook, I’m inconsistent. I mostly use Facebook to stay in contact with friends and family. It is private to me, so only those who are friends can see my messages etc. And my friends are accountable – if they post racist views, I unfriend them. For me, this is an important distinction. I wish Facebook would do more, and hope they will be forced to. But for now, the mental support I get from staying so easily in touch with those close to me outweighs my moral doubts about its business model.

Greed

I’ve worked in websites, as a senior editor, for a decade. I’ve overseen comments sections, message boards, membership models etc. And been in high level discussions and done regular media law courses covering the internet and social media. In my opinion, greed is the only thing stopping Twitter (and other ‘social’ sites) from doing the right thing.

Governments keep asking these platforms to tackle the problem. But haven’t legislated, instead wait for these profit-driven global behemoths to self-regulate. Which never, ever happens. It looks like the UK government may finally be forced to pull its finger out after this debacle. But we’ll see. Boris made some of the right noises in PMQs today. But his bluster rarely turns into action when it comes to large corporations – especially at a time when he’s still trying to justify brexit via tax breaks and undisclosed bailouts to secure jobs.

Registration & accountability

It is too easy to create accounts on Twitter. It’s a five-minute process with zero accountability if you later get banned or otherwise punished. This level of anonymity practically encourages poor behaviour. Increased levels of security and scrutiny are clearly available. Just look at banks or other online financial institutions. But yes – all that extra security and accountability costs time and money and would put people off signing up.

And then there’s moderation. You can set up word catchers etc but they’re crude at best and often easy to get around. What you really need is a team of actual people to police this. But, of course, those pesky people want paying don’t they?

And again, the law/government doesn’t help. In theory, those perpetrating social media hate crimes (such as racist abuse) can be prosecuted and face massive fines – even jail time (if you can find them). But Twitter, Facebook etc can’t. They build-in not being responsible for what people write into their terms and conditions. By signing up to use their services, you’re essentially waiving your right to blame them if someone abuses you on their platform.

I’m just tired of it

So I’m walking away. It feels like an insignificant drop in the ocean. But it all adds up. In a week where I’ve felt embarrassed, even ashamed, to be English, I needed to do something. I hope you do something too. And if you’re someone in the board game industry who thinks I can help in some way, in your own battle with any kind of prejudice, please get in contact.

Top 10 board games of 2011

Welcome to my top 10 board games of 2011. The games released that year I like the most today. It was the first year I logged more than 300 plays on Board Game Geek, with more than 50 of those being Race for the Galaxy. But I played more than 60 different games in total. And went to my first board game convention, LoBsterCon. I was officially hooked!

Today I have five 2011 games in my collection (four below, plus BraveRats – a clever two-player micro game that didn’t quite make the list). While I’ve previously owned the likes of King of Tokyo (below), Pergamon (decent tile game you can try at Yucata) and Mage Knight (solid, but too long and dry for me).

Rhino Hero was probably number 11 – a fun balancing game for kids and adults alike. Euro games Hawaii (also on Yucata) and Walnut Grove don’t quite do it for me, but are popular with friends. While I enjoyed my play of light euro Airlines Europe – but no one I played with did. Also worthy of checking out, if they’re your thing, are Sentinels of the Multiverse (excellent co-operative superhero card game), Mansions of Madness (equally excellent horror co-op) and Infarkt (a comedy/medical worker placement game where you try not to have a heart attack – you have to play it to believe it…).

My Top 10 board games of 2011

10. King of Tokyo
3-6 players, 45-60 mins

This is one I owned, but not enough friends liked to bother keeping. Luckily it proved a massive hit, so I still get to play at cons – there’s usually a copy around. It’s a light Yahtzee-style dice combat game, with a great table presence. Lime green dice and chunky cardboard standees really add to the experience. While the mass of special powers (via cards) give the game plenty of variety. Really needs 4+ players to sing, due to the game’s core ‘king of the hill’ style knockout combat mechanism.

9. Friday
1 player, 30 mins

Friday is a great small box solo card game. Through a clever multi-use card system, you go through the card deck attempting to beat challenges to improve your character. You choose which of two challenges to face each time. The ones you beat are added to your own deck. But the ones you fail, or ignore, will come back harder the second time through. And the third. This keeps the game surprisingly varied each time. And the fact it packs down small makes it a great travel companion.

8. Drako: Dragon & Dwarves
2 players, 30 mins

Drako is a great two-player only asymmetric abstract game. One player plays the dragon; the other a set of three dwarves hunting it. Each side has a unique card deck they play through (once), trying to defeat their opponent. Otherwise the dragon escapes (and wins). The game plays out in a small arena and is cleverly balanced. The dragon is a single target, but dwarven hits can take out one of its powers – rendering some of its cards useless. While the dragon can move well, so ca try to target one dwarf at a time – or can just try to evade. Play online at Yucata.

7. Village
2-4 players, 90 mins

Village is a medium complexity euro game that still holds a place in the BGG Top 200 games. While largely a standard worker placement/contract fulfilment game, it stands apart thanks to its generations mechanism. Over time your workers grow old and die, leaving behind a legacy for latter generations of workers. This twist is enough to make it stand out, and stand the test of time. As does its really well-balanced mix of tactical and strategic decisions. Play online at Tabletopia.

6. Letters From Whitechapel
2-6 players, 1-2 hours

Now for a one-versus-all co-operative game. Essentially Scotland Yard on steroids, one player is Jack the Ripper attempting to avoid the authorities. London is represented on a huge, gorgeous map containing 200 locations. Over a series of rounds, Jack announces where his latest victim is – and then tries to get back to his set hideout. Each murder should let the investigators narrow down where they think the hideout is. But if Jack escapes after his fifth murder, he wins. Brilliant with the right crowd.

Top 10 board games of 2011 – The Top 5

5. Artus
2-4 players, 60 mins

Somehow this little abstract ranks a lowly 3,537th in the BGG listings. Especially when you note it is designed by famed pairing Kramer and Kiesling. But I’m really fond of it. Players jostle for the best seats around King Arthur’s round table, with different seats being worth points. You play cards each turn to manipulate positions, but also to trigger scoring. You all have the same set of cards, and have to use them all, so it’s a constant battle trying to set yourself up to score. A unique, chaotic and fun experience.

4. Trajan
2-4 players, 2 hours

Trajan is a typically point salady euro game from Stefan Feld, with a tricksy mancala mechanism. The game is really in the mancala, as you try to manipulate different coloured stones into the right places to pull off powerful actions. This is a clever, brain-burning challenge. But the rest is a little bit bog-standard (claim board spaces, gain bonuses, get resources etc). It’s good, but it is telling I’ve never picked it up – and it’s not even (spoiler alert) his best game of 2011. But then I’d never turn down a game and always enjoy it.

3. Castles of Burgundy
2-4 players, 60-90 mins

Considered by many to be Stefan Feld’s best design, Burgundy still ranks in the BGG Top 20 games of all time. A simple dice mechanism sees players competing for tiles, which they place on their own board to score points. Players are largely doing the same thing. But it is the ebb and flow of point scoring, and how timing is so key, that makes it sing. It has the classic Feld euro tropes: loads of ways to score points, plus lots of luck – alongside time/action consuming ways to mitigate it. Play online at Yucata.

2. Vanuatu
2-5 players, 90 mins

Beating the two Felds to ‘number 1 euro of 2011’ is this gem. It looks friendly, with pretty islands and turtles. But just below the surface is a mean and interactive worker placement game. It’s kind of an action auction, as you have to have the most workers on an action to do it next. This means you can risk spreading your workers thin, but if you get to your turn and don’t have the lead on any actions – you can’t do anything. And worse, you have to remove a worker from the board. Tough, clever, brilliant. Play online at Boite a Jeux.

1. Kingdom Builder
2-6 players, 60 mins

Kingdom Builder is somewhere on the family game/light euro spectrum. But whether you like it seems to very much black or white. The divisiveness stems from the central mechanism: draw a card, and place pieces on board spaces matching that colour. People have issues with this, because once you’ve places pieces you have to build out from those if you can. This means bad early placement can really limit your options – making for a bad first experience. But it really is worth sticking with. Check out my review for more (linked in the game title). Play online at Board Game Arena.

Notable titles that didn’t make my list

Overall, it was a strong year for releases. There are still 30 2011 games in the Board Game Geek Top 500; with 4 in top 100 and one of those in top 20. Of those, games notable for their absence below include Eclipse (OK space 4X, but soon became tedious and predictable); Ora et Labora (resource conversion ad nauseum); and A Few Acres of Snow (clever historical deck-builder that just didn’t grab me).

Top games in the ‘I need to get around to playing those’ list were Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and Sekigahara. But if I missed anything let me know and I’ll give them a go.

Game retrospective 2020, #2: My top gaming moments

2020 eh? One quarter normal, three quarters stuck at home. But thanks to a bunch of online platforms, my board game play count was up versus 2019. I got to play a bunch of slightly older games that had passed me by; several of which became instant favourites. While I soon learned to cherish those few opportunities to physically sit around a table. So despite the obvious, 2020 ended up being a pretty good year for my board gaming.

The year started well, with Sarah, me and two friends (Karl and Ann) doing a bit of gaming in a New Forest Air B&B. While I also got a couple of good game days in. February was SorCon, and March AireCon – but the country was literally locking down as I returned from Harrogate on the train. Sarah and me managed a couple of weekends away late summer, and we had a few local well ventilated sessions then too. But that was it for ‘real’ gaming.

2021’s SorCon has been cancelled, while any hopes for AireCon recede by the day. So it will be at least a full year without normality. But let’s not dwell on that. And instead get back to my gaming highlights of 2020. (Note: See end of post for links to online versions of many of the games mentioned.)

My 3 best ‘real’ gaming experiences of 2020

  • SorCon: AireCon was weird. There was a strange atmosphere and low attendance due to the rising Covid tensions. Several people I’d hoped to game with didn’t come, leaving me a little rudderless. But SorCon the month before had been great. There’s something reassuringly average about a Holiday Inn. And it’s a con with a very friendly atmosphere. I got to play several favourites (Thurn & Taxis, Delphi, Pharaon, Snowdonia, Heaven & Ale). Some sillier games I rarely get to air out (Junk Art, Celestia). While also discovering an odd little card game (#MyLife).
  • Lazy Sundays: I only really see Sarah properly once every couple of weekends, when she doesn’t have her kids. Which often end with a lazy Sunday morning rounded off with a few games. Early in 2020, I also got into the habit of going to my local pub on Sunday evenings to game with the landlord’s family. While Sunday also often includes an afternoon session with my Cambridge group. So a good Sunday could include a lie in, cooked breakfast, a proper beery evening and a good five games or so. That’s the life!
  • AlexCon: OK it wasn’t a con. It was just a visit from main co-LoBsterCon organiser Alex. But in a year where I didn’t see some of my favourite people face-to-face at all, it felt significant! And he’d never been to my house, so the pressure was on. I even had a bath (no I didn’t). But whatever it wasn’t, it was a good two days of gaming. Ten games, including first plays for me of the marvellous Brass: Birmingham and Antiquity. While Sarah managed to pop over and beat us at Pharaon. We also played Azul, Pickomino, Bonfire and more. And I learned I don’t need to own Parks or Fox in the Forest (meh both).

Best individual plays: January to June 2020

January: Very much enjoyed a long 7th Continent session with Andy; while I lost a nail-biting Flamme Rouge when not drawing my final 7 on my last card draw. Either would’ve won most months – but a game of Concordia will live longest in the memory. It finished with scores of Karl 122, me 121 and Ann on 120. Absolutely epic play of one of my favourite games.

February: I don’t play my own games often, but really enjoyed my one 2020 play of Armageddon. It was with Dave, Lyndsey and Benjy upstairs at my local pub. Lyndsey got off to a flyer and looked to be coasting, but it pulled it back to only lose by 5 in the end (120-115). Dave and Benj niggling each other added comedy value and it’s always nice to teach people your own game and have them really enjoy it.

March: Despite AireCon, my favourite March play was a virtual game of Agricola on Boite a Jeux with Howie and Andy. It’s a game I enjoy but very rarely win. But this time I managed to get out of sync with my actions, allowing me to have little competition over my placements. I ended up seven points ahead of Howie on 40, which is the equivalent of a landslide victory for me.

April: I had some great online plays of some of my favourite games, including Terra Mystica and Concordia. But April’s highlight was learning to play fantastic solo game Nemo’s War. It follows the adventures of Captain Nemo and The Nautilus, with a variety of scenarios and story cards adding variety and flavour. The game is hard and puzzley, but the great art and use of text on the cards give it just enough theme and character.

May: I’m going to mention Fertility here. It’s a great, quick tile-laying game with very simple rules but lots or tactical and strategic depth. But just beating it to play of the month was an online game of Vanuatu with Chris and Jonathan. Neither of them had played it before, but it was a smooth teach and we all really enjoyed the play. It’s a super interactive worker placement game where clever play can really screw your opponents over.

June: One advantage of lockdown was looking elsewhere online to find games I’d never played, mostly with Alex. This included my first plays of many games in the Gipf series of abstracts (which are free to play on Boite a Jeux). They were all clever, but largely not my bag. But the exception was Dvonn. It’s fast with simple rules, but every move counts and if you’re lucky you can line up some killer moves. One I need to get in my collection.

Best individual plays: July to December 2020

July: An easy one, thanks to a five-game session of Race for the Galaxy with Howie and Andy. Yes, it’s my favourite game. But that wasn’t the reason it made this list. The credit here goes to the fantastic Steam implementation (which is less than £10). It makes the game a real pleasure to play online, with the first three expansions also available as DLC. Honourable mentions for learning games of the excellent Kanban and Mandala.

August: Several to choose from here, including my first plays in years of two games I really like. Firenze is up top of my wish list – a light euro which feels to me like an interactive and prettier Thurn and Taxis. While I also really enjoyed my re-introduction to worker placement classic Pillars of the Earth. But the win (just) goes to Nippon, another excellent worker placement game.

September: A lovely evening with my better half saw us play three great games. And it was a rare day when I won all three! I got a one-point win at Downfall of Pompeii; and put together a crushing final round in Azul. But topping that was a rare win at Targi. It’s a great two-player tableau-building gateway game. Resources can be tight, making every decision count. And you can really interfere with each other’s plans.

October: No Essen – boo! I really enjoyed learning new CGE games Arnak and Under Falling Skies, which gave me that new game vibe. But again it was two super close games with Sarah that stood out. We had a great game of Kingdomino (mighty duel), which she won by a point. But it was here two-point win at Thurn and Taxis that was the real highlight. It went right to the wire, being decided in the last couple of turns.

November: There’s something special about bringing someone into the board gaming fold. So this month’s pick goes to my first two plays of Ticket to Ride with local drinking buddy Vince. I don’t think he’ll ever be a ‘gamer’. But he’s taken to this and it has helped us both through the tough winter lockdown months. We’ve played four different maps now and he’s had his first win. And I can see a lot more defeats in my future…

December: Alex and I got a weekend of gaming in just before lockdown hit again. There were some great plays, but we agreed on the highlight – Brass: Birmingham. The original is the most criminally underplayed game on my shelves. So it was great to try this version. And what a great version it is. Route building, a tight economy and a good sprinkling of luck via the cards. I taught Sarah the original the next week, and she didn’t hate it!

Board game lockdown links

I linked to Boite a Jeux a couple of times in this post, and Steam; then realised there are several more of the games above that can also be played virtually. So rather than fiddling about trying to force links in, I’ve listed them below:

  • Brass: Birmingham is available on Tabletopia.
  • Concordia is at Boite a Jeux (including the Salsa expansion).
  • Downfall of Pompeii is available on Yucata.
  • Kingdomino is on Board Game Arena (you need a paid subscriber to start a game).
  • Nemo’s War is available on Tabletopia.
  • Nippon is surprisingly well implemented on Board Game Arena.
  • Targi can be found on both Yucata and Board Game Arena.
  • Thurn & Taxis is available on both Yucata and Board Game Arena. But the Yucata version has a far superior implementation, as well as the expansions.
  • Ticket to Ride has a fantastic app that can be played on mobile (Apple and Android/Kindle) or via Steam. All the links are here.
  • Under Falling Skies is free to try on Tabletopia.
  • Vanuatu is available at Boite a Jeux.

Board game Top 10: The best ‘new to me’ games 2020

There are lots of 2020 releases I wanted to play. But in these virusy times I’ve had trouble getting hold of them. The likes of Mariposas, Pan Am, Alma Mater, Castles of Tuscany and The Red Cathedral top the list. So hopefully more on those in 2021.

But here are the 10 new-to-me games, new and old, that impressed me most in when I learnt them in 2020.

I’ve split the list into on and offline plays, as it seemed appropriate for how the year went in terms of COVID19 lockdowns. All the ‘online’ titles are of course board games that are available to buy for your gaming table. It’s just that I’ve happened to learn and play them online in 2020. If you want to do the same, I’ve included links to the online platforms below. They’re all free-to-play after a relatively pain-free sign up process.

Best new to me games 2020: Online

  • Bruxelles 1893 (2-5 players, 1-2 hours, 2013): A brilliant and surprisingly interactive euro game. You’re very much ploughing your own furrow via action selection. But every action taken has majority consequences that affect a variety of bonuses. It gives a relatively simple game an extra dimension that really makes it sing.
  • Kanban (2-4 players, 2 hours, 2014): This is another surprisingly interactive euro game. And in similar ways. You’re selecting actions in pretty standard euro fashion. But timing is everything, as others can benefit from your hard work. While your own scoring can help your opponents as much as it does you. Clever stuff. and strangely thematic.
  • Mandala* (2 players, 20 minutes, 2019): This is a fantastic little two-player abstract game. In essence it’s a simple set collection and hand management game. What makes it stand out, alongside the gorgeous production, is the scoring. As players collect cards, it affects how that player will score each colour. Adding a great tactical dynamic.
  • Marco Polo II: In the Service of the Khan** (2-4 players, 1-2 hours, 2019): The original Marco Polo was close to great, but was for me let down by some daft design decisions. This sequel fixes everything, while keeping the euro worker placement heart of the original. Crazy strong player powers, a tight economy and multiple paths to victory.
  • Nippon (2-4 players, 1-2 hours, 2015): I usually don’t like area majority games. But this has so many clever little euro mechanisms going on I can totally forgive that. The kind of game that even when someone else does something clever that screws you over, you have to admire how they did it.

Honourable mentions to lighter filler games Chakra, Marrakech and Bubblee Pop, which all had a hand in keeping me sane through our various lockdowns.

* Mandala was on Tabletop Simulator, but was removed by the online rights holder.
** Marco Polo II needs at least one of the players to be a paid member of BGA to start a game. This can be as cheap as €2 per month.

Best new to me games 2020: Real life

Links below go to my reviews. Hence the largely shorter write-ups here. I really need to get around to reviewing Brass too.

  • Brass: Birmingham (2-4 players, 1-2 hours, 2018): I love the original Brass and didn’t feel I needed a new version in my life. And then I got to play it. It’s the same route-building card management euro game. But with a few of the slightly rough edges smoothed down (with beer, no less). Proving you can improve on a classic.
  • Foothills (2 players, 1 hour, 2019): A two-player Snowdonia game. It has the spirit of the original, but with enough differences to make it an interesting standalone alternative.
  • Lost Ruins of Arnak (2-4 players, 1-2 hours, 2020): Exploration, deck building, resource management and luck. Nothing original, but it all comes together in a hugely satisfying way.
  • Nemo’s War (1 player, 1-2 hours, 2017): Possibly the best complex solo board game I’ve played. Thematic and thinky, with the luck tempered by mitigation and risk-taking choices.
  • Pharaon (1-5 players, 1 hour, 2019): A great abstract worker placement light euro. Complex scoring and a clever way to plan your moves for later rounds. Plus a great solo mode.

Honourable mention to Under Falling Skies, another brilliant (if much lighter) solo experience. And Gods Love Dinosaurs – a fun little tile-laying game I’ve only managed to get one play of so far, but I very much enjoyed. Review incoming.

Looking back

I did a Top 5 ‘new to me’ list as part of my 2019 retrospective – so what do I think of those games a year on? The definite hits are Tales of Glory and Dizzle. Both are comfortably part of my collection and have had regular plays in 2020. I still have fond memories of my play of The Gallerist. But I haven’t had a chance to play it again since. But still want to.

Both Just One and La Cour des Miracles are also still in my collection. And likely to stay there. However, Just One is very much a party game – and 2020 hasn’t exactly been a party year… While La Cour is definitely better with three or four. And once again, 2020 hasn’t exactly been the best year to get a few friends around the table.

So that’s it for my best new to me games 2020. See you next year!