Cardboard time machine: My 2011 in life and board games

2011 was a trauma-free year for me. Highlights included a great visit to New York with Zoe (where I picked up Pizza Box Football in a small game store) and a visit to the Beautiful Days festival, seeing some of my favourite bands (Carter USM, PWEI, Levellers) topping the bill.

Work ticked over nicely, including a fantastic week in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress (an annual thing, then, for a few more years). And while music was still my ‘big’ thing, the board game obsession was continuing to grow.

The two-weekly local sessions (firmed up in 2010) were still going strong. This was giving me a good excuse to keep buying new games, as my exploration of Board Game Geek continued. And the guys had started picking up a few games of their own. All of us with very mixed results! But one of the highlights was definitely The Works filling up with a bunch of great game overstocks (more on which below), many of which I still have today.

I continued my tentative trips to the Cambridge board game meetup at Cambridge Union. This I generally did alone, and ultimately quite rarely. Cambridge is quite strange (people-wise) at the best of times – and the attendees of these events were a colourful bunch. Too often I failed to enjoy myself, after falling into a weird group. So I didn’t keep it up for long. But it did introduce me to some fantastic games. And later in the year, I had my first few trips to London on Board (see below).

My game plays in 2011

I recorded 349 plays on Board Game Geek – nearly 100 more than the year before and double what I’d managed in 2009. Quite a few months saw me playing an average of more than one game per day – thanks largely to our main group’s continued obsession with Race for the Galaxy. It again topped the playlist, with 55, in 2011.

Dominion, Ra, Ticket to Ride, Macao, Ingenious, Archaeology: The Card Game and Rattus continued to be favourites. And all but Rattus are still in my collection today. New favourites I picked up (via research) included Downfall of Pompeii, Pickomino and Alhambra. While Stone Age and Endeavor were also in heavy rotation. The big hit of the year that didn’t last was Glory to Rome – a fun game, but a bit fiddly. It was selling for silly money, so I cashed in.

As mentioned, for a year or so The Works became a great place to get good clearance games. Usually it was full of largely crappy books and art supplies. But a buyer (Laura Lemon – a legend on BGG for a while) picked up a shedload of game overstocks – and hit gold. I got Hamburgum, Cuba, Pergamon, Oregon, Notre Dame, Maori and Alhambra – plus most of its expansions. But you could also find the likes of Aqua Romana, Caylus Magna Carta, La Citta, Royal Palace and more. Light euro heaven at £7.99 a pop.

Being taught new games

The likes of Battlestar Galactica, 7 Wonders, Merchants & Marauders, Alien Frontiers and Qwirkle were introduced by local friends in the first half of the year. It was great to have other players bringing new games to the party. But none of them got into it as much as I did.

I was probably buying at least five new games to every one they picked up! And yes, I realise I was the one on the wrong end of that equation. But with such a good resale market, it was still proving to be a relatively cheap hobby.

Perhaps more significant were my first visits, in November 2011, to board game club London on Board. I was having to go to London quite a lot for work. So if I had afternoon meetings or events, why not hang around for the evening to play some games? The group was held in various London pubs (as it still is today). Which appealed to me much more than an afternoon in a social club. I wish I could remember who I played with the first few times I went (which included an epic game of Star Trek: Fleet Captains). But I did get taught a few games by John Bandettini, who I’m still playing games with to this day.

My hindsight Top 10 Games of 2011

I wouldn’t describe this as a vintage year for the hobby, by any stretch of the imagination. I only own four of the games below, although I’m still on the lookout for a copy of Vanuatu.

And I still play a few more (Trajan at Boite a Jeux and Drako at Yucata) online – both of which are available for free. You can read a detailed post on my best games of 2011 here, so I won’t go into much detail. But my choices were:

  1. Kingdom Builder: Simple placement/area influence game with a twist.
  2. Vanuatu: Viscous worker placement game.
  3. Castles of Burgundy: classic Feld tile-placer.
  4. Trajan: Another Feld euro, this time with a mind-bending mancala mechanism.
  5. Artus: Tricksy, interactive and underappreciated abstract.
  6. Letters from Whitechapel: One vs all cop/criminal game.
  7. Village: Well regarded worker placement euro game.
  8. Drako: Asynchronous two-player fantasy abstract game.
  9. Friday: Solo survival card game
  10. King of Tokyo: Yahtzee-style family game, with battling and monster powers.

I did own King of Tokyo in 2011, and we has fun with it. But ultimately I found it was too light for my main groups. I borrowed Friday from a friend in 2012, enjoyed it, but didn’t actually pick up a copy until 2018. I also played Village in 2012, enjoyed it, but never quite pulled the trigger (as with Fresco the year before). The rest I came to later. Kingdom Builder, Castles of Burgundy and Artus sit on my shelves, while I play plenty of Trajan online.

Mage Knight and Eclipse also came out in 2011 and are still high in the BGG Top 100. I owned Mage Knight, but it was just too long and mathsy for us to really get into. While local friend Howie bought Eclipse (in 2012) and I enjoyed my first few games. Before realising it was all just building up to a big, stupid, inevitable battle at the end each time.

The year’s end

By the end of 2011 I had a pretty decent (around 50, I think) board game collection. I also had a solid local group, plus some new friends at London on Board. But despite this, things were about to go next level. 2012 would prove to be a fantastic year for new games. Which coincided with my first trip to Essen, a Greek board gaming holiday, plus two UK game conventions. Not to mention a day on Centre Court at Wimbledon for the Olympics…

If you’re looking for my thoughts on games from other specific years, check out my Board Game Top 10s list page. Or drop me a line to request something specific I haven’t yet covered.

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