The end of a decade always suggests a period of reflection, but I can’t see myself doing a ‘twenty-tens’ retrospective. Why? Because games are still games.
Sure, there have been some interesting steps in the hobby. But the majority of bestsellers are still competitive two-to-four-player card and board games, as always. And that suits me fine. Instead I’ll stick to my annual look back at my gaming over the past 12 months.
I found it a weak year release-wise. The terminally ordinary Wingspan making it into the Top 100 titles on Board Game Geek summed it up. There’s still a focus on volume over honing great games, creating a glut of mediocre titles. And I think the amount of new players coming into the hobby is giving mediocre/unoriginal but easily accessible games much higher ratings than they deserve. Sure, some ‘good’ games were released. And quite a few I’m still looking forward to playing. But it was not a standout year.
Top 5 new (or new to me) games of 2019
There are quite a few 2019 releases I want to play. Star Wars: Outer Rim, Maracaibo and Azul: Summer Pavilion spring to mind. While 1987: Channel Tunnel, Fistful of Meeples, Isle of Pan and Pharoen sit unplayed on my review shelf. But these titles did make the grade:
- Tales of Glory (2018): I’d wanted this at Essen 2018, but the publisher didn’t want to give me a review copy. It’s a fantasy themed tile-layer where you build you own little tableau. Simple, cute and clever with lots of paths for points. John brought it to SorCon in February and I loved it. Honourable mentions to Whistle Stop and It’s a Wonderful World – also sub-hour light euros I’ve fallen for.
- The Gallerist (2015): My first experience of a Vital Lacerda design and wow A meaty, challenging heavy euro game that also looked gorgeous. A bit of interaction, but not in a frustrating/game-ending way. In the same vein, honourable mentions go to The Romans, Gaia Project (Terra Mystica in space) and Nations (Through the Ages with more military flexibility).
- Dizzle (2019): This was certainly a good year for roll-and-write games with some substance. Dizzle was just about my pick of the bunch, as it’s so interactive and has multiple games in the one box. Honourable mentions to That’s Pretty Clever and Welcome To, which hit the table a lot in 2019 – especially as Sarah has really taken to all of them.
- Just One (2019): As much as I love Codenames, it’s very much a gamer’s word game – and really needs six players to work (or two for Duet). Just One can be played with anyone, works well with three to six players, and plays fast. We’ve had a real laugh with it across abilities and player numbers.
- La Cour des Miracles (2019): I seem to like this more than most people I play it with… but like it I do. It has loads of interaction, some great opportunities for clever moves, and simple rules/short play time. I’m not normally keen on very interactive euros, but this gets it right. Area majorities are fluid and you’re all in constant competition, so it never feels as if you’re being picked on.
Despite not getting many plays of them, I largely stick by the 10 games on my 2018 list. The five I owned are still on my shelves, while I’ve added Junk Art to my collection. I still want to play more Fallout and Mini Rails, and would pick them up if I saw them cheap. And I’ve enjoyed Pitch Car again since. The only one I’m a little less interested in now is Decrypto, but I’d still happily play it.
Game play and collection stats
I’ve managed to keep my collection at below 160, with the current count at 156. I didn’t count games for sale and unplayed review copies, as those will either be added on a one-for-one basis or will immediately go. But it’s getting harder for games to stay, as most of what’s left I really want to keep hold if.
My ‘shelf of hope’ still contains Exit: Forgotten Island from last year (Shafausa has gone, while I really enjoyed Mythos Tales). Egizia: Shifting Sands (I love the original), On the Underground (looks right up my street) and Scorpius Freighter (a gift from that Dunstan fellow) were new additions. The plan is to get them all played once the review pile is a little lighter.
I slipped below 400 plays for the year (371) – but at least the average was above one game played per day. Very little changed in terms of my groups, but I did have some very low-play months (just 16 in September). Cancelled game days were the biggest frustrations of the year (sometimes by me, sometimes others). But as you get older, real life just gets in the way more – especially for friends with young/ageing families.
But Sarah continued to pick games she loves, so favourites got multiple plays. I picked shorter, easier games to review, making my life easier this post-Essen. While my attempt at playing all my games in the year saw old faves hitting the table.
Vive la difference
I played 197 different games in 2019, with 126 only played once each. Both records for me.
This was largely down to me trying to get all of my collection played in the calendar year. It meant my ‘most played’ list (below) ended up being pretty unusual, but hey – I was still blown away by that stat.
I still record all my plays on Board Game Geek. And the extended stats (by BGG user Friendless) blow me away. The Extended BGG stats page is still improving and not quite back up to full speed. Yet it makes fascinating reading for the big nerd in me. Some fun numbers about my 2019 include:
- I played 32 different games in July 2019 – my highest ever.
- Seven games hit 10 all-time plays in 2019 (including Azul), while three hit 25 total plays during last year: Thebes, Codenames: Duet and Kingdom Builder.
- The only games in my Top 50 ‘most played’ that didn’t hit the table in 2019 were Macao (currently lent out), Uruk and Puerto Rico.
My most played games in 2019
Plays of ‘unpublished prototypes’ were up to 43 (from 24 last year), showing a bit of a resurgence in my interest in design. I never include plays of my own designs. So outside those it was:
- Azul (11 plays)
- That’s Pretty Clever (9)
- Ticket to Ride (8)
- Dizzle (8)
- Thurn & Taxis & Adios Calavera (7 each)
This is the first time ever Race for the Galaxy (4 plays) hasn’t been on the list. Shocker. Codenames Duet (also 4 plays) is also still a favourite despite falling from last year’s list. That’s Pretty Clever and Dizzle became instant hits, with Azul gained Ticket to Ride level ‘classic’ status for me. Excluding games mentioned elsewhere in this post, the only other non-review game to hit five plays in 2019 was Uptown (as it did in 2018).
My biggest frustration was missing out on plays of meatier games. The top games in those categories were Terraforming Mars (4 plays), Concordia (3) and Oracle of Delphi (3). Favourites with just one play included Terra Mystica, Snowdonia, Deus and Yokohama. I’ll have to try and write this wrong in 2020.
I’ll be back soon with Part 2, which will include my best gaming events and individual plays of 2019. So until then, Happy New Year!