The best of 2015, part 2: My top board gaming experiences

My 5 best gaming experiences of 2015

Empire Engine Essen 2015 1If 2014 was my year of board game travelling and holidays, 2015 was very much the ‘back to work’ equivalent – but it was no less eventful for it. In kind of chronological order:

  • Taking back Mondays: There’s no denying going to a four-day week in my day job to concentrate more on this blog and game design was a risk – and I’ll do a follow up on that in April once it has been a year. Success or not, I’m glad I’ve done it – there’s nothing like the feeling of doing something for yourself that you really believe in, while knowing it’s a massive risk. It’s a real buzz and I’m thankful to be in a position where it was viable.
  • UK Games Expo: This was my first UK Games Expo and the first opportunity to try my luck at grabbing some games to review after turning ‘semi pro’ in April. I had a really nice time bimbling around and am looking forward to the 2016 event. And I made some great contacts – especially the lovely Hannah from UK distributor Coiledspring (Keyflower, Brave Rats etc), and some great small game publishers such as Nick Case (The Front Nine) and Aigar Alaveer (Lembitu).
  • Essen: Trip four to Essen was another big success, with the German edition of Empire Engine looking fantastic and with David Thompson and me selling a game to a big distributor that we’d spent a hard year working on. I also worked hard on claiming games to review after a good start at Expo, bringing home a good spread of fantastic games and spending very little in the process. In this way, even if I’m not getting paid, it feels my indulgent day-per-week of gaming is paying off a bit!
  • Eastbourne: It’s hard to sum up just how much I enjoy my trips to Eastbourne for our two annual board gaming weekends. As I rarely get to London on board now it’s as much about catching up with old friends as it is about playing games – plus the fantastic breakfasts, of course. Long may this tradition continue.
  • St Ives Board Game Group: I haven’t been to as many sessions as I’d like in 2015, but the St Ives Board Game Group continues to strengthen under the stewardship of glorious leader Chris. We also had a fun day at the local library introducing some new folks to gaming, while the group has been very patient with me bringing along new games I need to review and demanding to play them – thank you one and all! There were only a couple of stinkers…

My top individual game plays of 2015

downfall_of_pompeii_boxLike the massive nerd I am, I’m still recording all my plays of board games every month. Here are this year’s playing highlights:

  • January: A game of old favourite The Downfall of Pompeii with Zoe was the pick of the bunch. We got almost all your pieces on the board, guaranteeing maximum carnage. It was really close to the last tile and I just scraped home the winner 19-18, getting my winning guy home with the last tile – and I would’ve lost the tiebreaker.
  • February: Several contenders here, including a one-point CV win over Zoe and my first face-to-face play of Yspahan (Zoe and Morph), but the win goes to a game of Empire Engine played at work with three colleagues – a couple of whom had bought copies, purely because I’d made something. It was a real thrill teaching it to people at work – who paid me back by stomping me into the ground! Louis won on 18 ahead of Simos on 16, with Ciaron and me way behind.
  • March: More tough choices, with a two-point Terra Mystica defeat to Zoe, and my first play of Sentinels of the Multiverse (St Ives Board Game Club) and Amun-Re (with Karl and Ann) close contenders. But it goes to Pizza Box Football in which Zoe beat me 17-14 – but I needed a 10 to get a successful nearside kick in the last minute and rolled a nine. Such as epic game.
  • April: Artus and Entdecker at Eastbourne with Tom, Soren and Karl made for a great afternoon, while learning games of Xia (with Soren and Nigel) and Kemet (Nathan, Jee and Alex) there were also great fun. But a hilarious game of Pillars of the Earth with Sean, Natalie, Ronan, Tom & Paul F-O was the real stand out moment – largely for the death threats from Paul as I continuously (and accidentally) kept just beating him to anything and everything he wanted.
  • May: I bought Zoe Marrying Mr Darcy for her birthday and having it go down so well with her was a thrill. It’s not a great game, but it is a great experience if you get into it. I also very much enjoyed my first explorations into Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends – a game I really need to get to the table more often. And with two expansions to review, that should be sooner rather than later!
  • The Dwarves boxJune: I learned some fun games including Prosperity, Colt Express, Lembitu and Sushi Go, but The Dwarves stood out. Both a two-player game with Zoe and a four player at St Ives Board Game Club (with Julian, Peter and Alexander) were fun, got tense at the end, and didn’t have a sniff of an alpha player problem. A really good fantasy co-op.
  • July: A month of revisiting some of my absolute favourite euros saw great games of Bora Bora, Notre Dame (with my Sunday group regulars) and especially The Manhattan Project. One of those rare things – a great Kickstarter game – it genuinely brings some fresh life to worker placement with some clever original mechanics. Zoe played really well, got ahead and didn’t look back – finishing on 73 the round before I would’ve hit 71, but I had gone first too. 
  • August: While my first plays of Codenames ran it close, the game of that will stay with me will be Spyrium – the last game Zoe and I played together before she moved out a few days later. It would’ve been memorable either way – a really good euro in a small package that packs in lots of decisions, with what feels a little like an auction mechanic without being one. The scope of the game is quite small, which is a downside, but I think it;s a game that – if played a few times a year – will hang around in my collection for a long time.
  • September: Some 17 of just 26 plays in September were of prototypes: anyone would think Essen was at the start of October! so it feels appropriate to give the crown to From the Ground Up – David and my prototype which I seemed to have on the table most days. But it was definitely worth it, as all that iterating helped get it picked up by a big publisher – of which you’ll hopefully hear more during 2016. It’s a game we’re both very proud of, so hopefully some of you will like it too! But what really made it was playing several times with my regular weekend group (Carl, Howie, Andy and Morph) and then really enjoying it.
  • October: Fields of Arle deserves a mention here – another great game from Uwe Rosenberg, this time just for two players, and it was a really close game that I just versus Karl. But it was of course my first taste of the new Essen releases and Celestia was my favourite – simple, beautiful and elegant. It seemed so innocuous as we set it up, but the game generates a wonderful atmosphere which I really hadn’t expected. A really nice end to a busy Essen day, sitting in the Movenpick Hotel games room winding down with David and Trevor.
  • November: I played a lot of good games in November, and had a lot of fun playing experiences – especially being back at Eastbourne, from where both of my tied games were played. Hamsterrolle (with Jee and some others) was quick, crazy and gravity defying (see pic); while during The Bloody Inn I just revelled in that warm glow of finding a new ‘all time top 10’ game. Everything just clicked into place and it felt as if I’d be playing it for years – things made sense, but you never had time to do everything you wanted to – while the other players (Soren and Adam) kept moving the goalposts. I even got a strong win, which is always a bonus.
  • December: A nice game of Deus with Dan was close, as we’re both fans and I haven’t played it anywhere near as much as I’d like. But just beating it were my first two plays of the Concordia: Salsa expansion. While I can take it or leave it with the salt towns, the new ‘forum’ tiles add a nice extra level of strategy and tactics to the game and really fill out the game well. Both a three and five-player game went really well, with a narrow defeat to Karl in the first and a narrow win over morph in the second making both games exciting.

My most played games in 2015

ticket_to_ride_boxIt was once again the year of the prototype, with about a quarter of my year’s plays (over 100) being unpublished game test plays.

There were also 100 published games I only played once, showing it was once again a year of real variety in my plays. It’s no wonder I’m no good at any of them! Only one games made double figures this year:

  • 10 – Ticket to Ride (13 in 2013, 12 in 2014)
  • 9 – Race for the Galaxy (22 in 2013, 18 in 2014)
  • 9 – Empire Engine (16 in 2014)
  • 7 – Africana, Deus & Red7

While the ‘top 3’ stayed the same, Race for the Galaxy was knocked off its ‘most played’ perch for the first time since 2009. The problem for Race was threefold: review schedule, the death of the midweek group where it got played most, and the terrible new expansion.

There was a massive list of games with four to six plays; a trend I see continuing if I keep reviewing games at my current pace. It’s the number of plays I like before I review. My big regret is that my schedule, and reduction in opportunities, has taken its toll on some favourites. Brass, Caylus, Power Grid, Dominion and Manila all failed to hit the table in 2015 – a shocking state of affairs! I’ll be trying the ’33×3 Challenge’ again next year, but with a different criteria for choosing the games (more on this in another post).

And so, to 2016…

The Bloody InnI’d love to say I’m excited about 2016, and in some ways I am – but overall my feeling towards the coming year is of nervous anticipation. There are so many uncertainties and so little direction in my life that it’s hard to be anything but apprehensive.

Paros looks further away than ever, I’ve failed to get my act together for the Nuremberg Toy Fair as yet (and it’s only a month away), and neither of the games I have with publishers are guaranteed to hot the shelves.

But on the flip side UK Games Expo will be bigger than ever, Essen and Eastbourne are always fantastic, and I could have my first published euro game under my belt. It really could go either way.

Reviews and design will of course still play a big part in proceedings, while an idea in principle for a podcast has been agreed with a partner in crime – more on that soon, I hope, as we plan to work on a pilot episode soon. Why be a guest when you can get your own show on the road? As for new games – right now I want The Bloody Inn and that’s it! But you know how it is. See you on the other side…

2015: Part One

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