Top 10 board games of 2012

It’s not easy doing a Top 10 board games of 2012. I may be a little biased, as it was my first year going to Essen and when my collection and interest in the hobby grew the most. But I’m confident in saying that, for me, it is the best year for board game releases of all time.

Seven games released in 2012 are in the Board Game Geek (BGG) Top 100 at time of writing. With 15 in the Top 250. Genre-defining classics including X-Wing Miniatures, the Netrunner LCG, Lords of Waterdeep, Robinson Crusoe, Virgin Queen and the Legendary deck builder were released. Not to mention second editions of War of the Ring and Descent. And that’s just games that didn’t make my Top 10.

As mentioned, it was also the year of my first visit to Essen Spiel. I logged more than 400 plays in the year, including more than 130 unique games. Many of which were released that year (including most of those listed above). But for me, which have stood the test of time and remain with me today?

My Top 10 board games of 2012

10. Ruhrschifffahrt 1769-1890 (AKA: The Ruhr)
2-4 PLAYERS, 2 hours

This is the only game on the list that I don’t own, and I also haven’t played it ‘live’. But I’ve really enjoyed my plays on Board Game Arena. It’s a really dry and crunchy euro game where your actions have real consequences. You need to plan ahead as best you can. But there’s a lot of passive interaction here, so you have to keep a really close eye on your opponents. It’s a game I’ll never be any good at. But I highly respect the design.

9. Love Letter
2-4 PLAYERS, 15-30 MINS

It has become pretty fashionable to give Love Letter a kicking. But it is a great, light, silly little game and an important board game milestone. There’s still a copy in my rucksack at all times. How you can make such a fun, interactive game with just 18 cards is astounding. And, of course, it led to my own first design – Empire Engine – getting a release in the same line. So, it will always have a special place in my heart.

8. The Dwarves
1-5 PLAYERS, 60-90 MINS

A lot of people would pick Robinson Crusoe as co-op of the year for 2012. It is a great design and deserves its high ranking. But for me, The Dwarves is the more enjoyable experience. And, while lighter, equally clever under the bonnet. Based on a German fantasy book series, the game brilliantly builds tension through an ingenious system that slowly fills the board with baddies. And each player gets to make genuine choices.

7. Divinare
2-4 PLAYERS, 30-45 MINS

If you like a brain-frying puzzle of a game, look no further. It’s all about predicting how many of certain card suits are available each round, via a slowly growing pool of information. But each guess is only available to one player – and if you play a card of that suit, you have to ‘move’ your current guess. It creates a tense battle of bluff and counter bluff. Or, if it’s me, blind guess and hope. A real gem which also has beautiful production.

6. Coup
3-6 PLAYERS, 15-30 MINS

I’m not a party game guy. But no matter how introverted and miserable I become, I’ll always keep a copy of Coup on my shelves. It’s a quick and simple game of bluff and pushing your luck. You start with two characters that you keep secret. And on your turn, you do one of a list of character actions – which may or not be your actual characters. Get called on it, and lose a character. Or collect enough goodies to assassinate the others.

The top 5 of 2012

5. Manhattan Project
2-5 PLAYERS, 60-90 MINS

I’ll remember 2012 most for innovations in euros and in particular worker placement games. Manhattan Project introduced me to the idea of either putting workers out, or bringing them all back – meaning players were acting out of sync in interesting ways. Plus, the theme is unique and meaningful. And it comes across in play as you build to a sudden ending, when a player announces they’ve won with a secret reveal of their latest bomb.

4. Kemet

I’m really not a ‘dudes on a map’ fighty game guy. But Kemet has just enough euro game goodness in it to win me over. Plus it looks great on the table, rattles along at a fine pace, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. While the theme is pasted on, the chunky plastic pieces and array of troop abilities are well drawn and do evoke an epic battle. And the clever yet simple scoring system means things are always progressing nicely towards an end.

3. Targi

For me, Targi is still the jewel in the crown of the excellent Kosmos two-player line. You each place workers around two sides of a 5×4 card grid, getting actions for the spots you place on plus the grid locations they create in the centre. It’s the kind of system that really sings with two players, as you balance your own needs versus those of your opponent. Do you take what you need, or something inferior while scuppering their plans?

2. Snowdonia
1-5 PLAYERS, 60-90 MINS

Yup, it’s another ingenious worker placement game. Snowdonia has a lovely Welsh railway theme, which it integrated beautifully. But don’t be fooled by the whimsy – this game can be brutal. The real key here is the weather system, that helps/hinders you planning ahead. But also lets the game essentially play itself, which can drastically alter the game’s length and how it plays. If you like euro games, you have to try this one.

1. Terra Mystica
2-5 PLAYERS, 2 hours

Snowdonia has been in my Top 40 games since I started it back in 2014. But Terra Mystica has been in my Top 10 throughout that same time. It’s a complex worker placement (surprise!) game where timing can be crucial. But it’s the asymmetry that really makes it sing, combined with the clever (and largely passive) board placement/area control elements. And it’s not just me. It is ranked in the BGG Top 25 at time of writing – and deservedly so.

Other honourable mentions

Plato 3000 is a fun little 2012 card game that is still on my shelves. I’ve got a real soft spot for it, but it’s by no means a classic – so didn’t quite make the list. I’m also a big fan of light card game Las Vegas. But I’ve never owned it and never felt the need to pick it up. So I’d also put that in the ‘bubbling under’ category.

In recent years I’ve waved goodbye to several previous 2012 favourites, including Tzolk’in, Copycat, Africana and Keyflower. These are all games I rate highly but just didn’t quite hang around. In the case of Keyflower and Tzolk’in, I was just never going to get any good at them. They burned my brain! While Copycat and African became samey after 20+ plays – which is a good innings for a game in my collection. And I would happily play them any time. They’ve just been replaced with something shinier (old or new) in recent times.

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