Gaming retrospective 2019, part 2: My top gaming moments

I had another busy year of gaming, visiting seven board game conventions (including SorCon and HandyCon, which missed out on mentions below). But I largely stuck to the same groups, both at cons and at home. So it was a bit of a fail in terms of gaming evangelism! Hopefully this year will see a few new converts.

This is one of my favourite posts of the year to write, because it allows me to go back over my plays for the year and all the great memories that evokes. On one side, it was a year low on exciting plays of brand new games. But that’s the beauty of the hobby. While technology may become obsolete and fashions come and go, those old favourite board games – and the friends I play with – give value time after time.

My 5 best gaming experiences of 2019

  • AireCon: This was, once again, my favourite board game convention of the year. The main reasons are how well it’s organised and what a nice place Harrogate is to visit. But equally how much I can truly relax – I have no responsibilities there at all, so can just game all weekend. My hotel is booked and I can’t wait to get back to this great town, and great event, in March.
  • Bristol: Sarah and me went to Bristol for a Saturday night gig. She hadn’t been to the city before, so we made a long weekend of it. This included two visits to Chance & Counter – a cracking little board game cafe in the town centre. While a bit on the noisy side one night, it had a great game, beer and food selection – perfect for an afternoon or evening of gaming.
  • LoBsterCon: As one of the organisers now, our bi-annual trips to Eastbourne are a little more stressful than they used to be. But with trips to London now limited, these are some of the few opportunities I get to game with old friends. It’s also lovely to be by the sea, have a chance to walk up onto the cliffs. And, of course, to play drunk Eldritch horror…
  • Essen: No year would now feel complete without the annual pilgrimage to Germany. The world’s best gaming event still blows me away each time, despite being a bit of a veteran. A thousand new releases, tens of thousands of gamers, and everyone who’s anyone in the industry all in one place. And that’s before mentioning the late night gaming sessions.
  • New Year in the New Forest: As people who hate pubs on NYE, Sarah and me enjoy getting away to the countryside instead. This year we escaped with fellow gamers Karl and Ann to a little AirB&B in the Hampshire countryside. Don’t worry – we were just as drunk as everyone else! We just did it playing Thurn and Taxis, with a cursory five-minute stop for fireworks…

Best games: January to June 2019

January: While my debut play of Mythos Tales pushed it close, a two-player game of Oracle of Delphi with Sarah won out. It looked like she had the win, but I just managed to get to the fight we both needed first, forcing her the long way round. This was just enough to give me the win by a round – and I would’ve lost the tie-breaker. It’s brilliant how this game so often ends in a super close finish.

February: There are several reasons why my first play of Tales of Glory wins this month easily. First, it was one of my gaming finds of the year and a close finish, with four of us within 10 points. And my favourite play on another fun weekend at SorCon. But it was also my last ever play with veteran gamer Keith, who has since passed away. RIP sir.

March: Lots of Airecon highlights, including a game of Archaeology: The Card Game with Ronan. He was so drunk he could barely stand, and had never played… but won anyway. I also really enjoyed a play of Gnomopolis with Keef and Clare. But the highlight was a late-night game of Basari: Das Kartenspiel with Fokos and Effi. This classic little game doesn’t look like much, but with the right crowd (and preferably three players) it’s an absolute classic.

April: A tough month to call, including great plays of Terraforming Mars, Downfall of Pompeii and Bora Bora. But the little two-player filler that could, Balloon Cup, walks away with the prize. 2-2, only two scoring cards left out, with only red playable. Sarah had no reds. She discarded 4 cards and drew… the 13 red, which won her the game. I had a winning card for me in my hand, so if she hadn’t drawn that it would’ve been mine. Great game!

May: A month dominated by great plays of The Romans. The first was at LoBsterCon, but the second at home just pipped it. The game was close throughout, but I pulled away at the end to beat Jonathan and Chris. The two games felt very different due to how the cars came out. One was senator heavy giving loads of actions; while the next was the opposite, instead giving lots of scoring options. But importantly, both offer interesting challenges.

June: A tough one to call between two learning games of heavier euros. Gaia Project was really enjoyable, but not dissimilar enough from Terra Mystica for me to want to pick it up. Want to play more though. So the win goes to Nations, played in Sweden on a trip to see my friend Janne. It has fired Through the Ages from my collection due to its more balanced player interaction. But also the way it ebbs and flows, making it feel more dynamic.

Best games: July to December 2019

July: A month with a lot of fun plays, but no stand-out one. So I’ll give it to a fun play of Eternity with Alex and Tom in Eastbourne, where we’d met up on a fact-finding mission – and a night out, of course. It’s a great little trick-taker that plays really well with three. The twists on an old standard are simple to understand, but offer an interesting puzzle. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the prettiest card games in my collection.

August: This had to go to The Gallerist, taught to us by Alex at HandyCon. I lost count of how many hours to took, but I really didn’t care as I was engaged throughout. It is such a clever design. Everything interlocks beautifully, with the ease and common sense of the flow making a complex game much easier to understand. Add in the gorgeous production values and you have a real winner. And I won – which was a pleasant surprise!

September: I had a brilliant holiday in the US, largely to see friends and Pop Will Eat Itself. Which also massively curtailed my games played (only 16). But I did spent a weekend in Portland, visiting The Portland Game Store and playing a few games with Dawson Cowals (Cohort VIII Games) and Sean Epperson (Thing 12 Games). We all taught games we were involved in, so it was great to teach them both Empire Engine. And yes, of course I lost.

October: After a long Friday in the halls at Essen, I enjoyed a few beers with Alex. After we headed back to his hotel in Bredeney, where I was taught Crystal Palace. I was with a fun group, there was lots of beer, and I really enjoyed the game. It was the only heavy game I played all weekend and one I’d like to play again. And this was despite knowing I was going to lose from about the second round.

November: Despite a lot of fun plays at LoBsterCon (including Eldritch Horror and Pitch Car), I’m going with a game of vanilla Ticket to Ride at Morph and Lauren’s house. It was a typical teach of this classic. New-to-games player Lauren was nervous about her introduction to the hobby, made lots of excuses why she’d be awful – then nearly won it. Hopefully it will be the first of many games with them over the coming years.

December: Another easy one – my only yet glorious victory on our trip to the New Forest. Karl was on fire all weekend, but when we played Azul everything somehow came together for me. It’s not a game I’d say I’m good at, but it’s a favourite. So amassing 97 points was something of a result – winning by more than 10 points. Everything just fell into place each round. A perfect storm. And a perfect way to see out the year – and decade.

How is 2020 shaping up?

I’m still excited for the launch of Europe Divided, a co-design with David Thompson, which should’ve released last year.

It might have made it to Essen, then Christmas and now, well, soon? Sorry to those who wanted it for Christmas. I can only apologise and say this kind of production issue is out of my hands.

There’s one more of my games left with a publisher, which we were hoping would see the light of day in 2020. That is now looking unlikely too; while several expansions for games have also been mooted, but things keep stalling. Some dev work is keeping me ticking over too. But all in all, it has been another frustrating year in terms of designing. Is it any wonder I’m struggling to get excited about that side of the hobby?

I’m planning to attend a few new cons this year, but beyond that I’m happy just to keep dabbling in design and play as much as possible. I’m aiming to play the 30-ish games in my collection I failed to get to this year. But beyond that, who knows? Hopefully I’ll see you across a table sometime soon.

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