The best of 2017, part 2: Best gaming experiences & most played games

2017 again felt like a year of consolidation, but certainly had some major highlights. But I missed out on far more gaming opportunities than I’d like due to ill health of various types, which I hope to rectify this year by being more proactive (and healthy!).

My 5 best gaming experiences of 2017

  • NurembergThis is a totally different gaming experience than Essen on every level. The city is lovely and fun to explore, while the show is quiet, easy to navigate and free of the dreaded public – and there are no games on sale to tempt you! We also had some very productive meetings in a much more relaxed atmosphere than Essen, so all round a great trip.
  • Gaming with friends: This really can’t be underestimated. Whether it was getting away for a night or weekend to visit friends, or just having friends over or popping to see someone local, this is the real life blood of the hobby no matter who you are. And thanks to everyone who puts up with me forcing new games on them all year that I have to review – I couldn’t do it without you!
  • Essen: Crazy, cramped, overblown and overwhelming: Essen was, once again, all of this and more – and as always I loved every minute of it. Pioneer Days had a low key presence, but it was great to chat with some of the TMG guys in person that I hadn’t met – as well as some people who came and bought the game. I brought too much home, of course, but that’s what Essen is all about.
  • Eastbourne: Sadly I only managed to make it on one of the two Eastbourne trips this year but it was, as ever, a big highlight. The November one always throws up loads of chances to play all the latest hot games from Essen and this was no exception – but I also made some new friends, sold some old games and caught up with a few people I don’t see nearly enough. Good times.
  • Gaming with Sarah: Finally, my year started with a new partner who had little gaming experience but a willingness to give it a go – and boy, did she dive in feet first! I recorded us having 150 individual game plays together in the year, including her braving a day at both SorCon and Eastbourne – more than I could possibly have hoped for. I can only hope we consolidate this in the coming months.

My top individual game plays of 2017

  • January: Sitting in Hutt’n, a Franconian tavern in Nuremberg, playing X Nimmt! with my regular co-design partner in crime David Thompson before attending our first day at the Nuremberg Toy Fair. Attending Essen is always brilliant, but this was our first Nuremberg – a new experience, and what better way to start than with great beer and one of my favourite recent small card games? A great start to a top few days.
  • February: It’s always nice to get taught a game you need to review – expertly done this time by Phil at SorCon. Along with old friends Keef and Claire we played my first game of Oracle of Delphi, which immediately shot into my top 10 games. The race element means games tend to be super close and this was no exception, with Claire just pipping me on the second tie-breaker.
  • March: A fantastic week of site-seeing and gaming in Granada ended with a visit to the city’s new gaming venue, with our host and one of its organiser’s Alex. Despite playing some favourites such as Thurn and Taxi, Alhambra and Kingdomino, the highlights were two four-player games of Tumblin’ Dice and a hilarious thrashing of Karl at Carrom, in which almost anyone else on the planet would have beaten me, so bad were we both!
  • April: Most plays in April were with Sarah, including great plays of Oracle of Delphi and some abstract favourites including Ingenious, Kingdom Builder and Blokus Duo. But the lasting memory is of a game of Love Letter in The Phoenix pub in York during a lovely weekend away. It was meant to be best of five but she got a princess-baron draw at 2-2 for a cheaty feeling win. I demanded best of seven, drew level, then Sarah drew baron-baron – and this time I had the princess. As it was an equally cheaty win, I conceded the original 3-2 defeat!
  • May: The month was probably topped by a sadly rare yet fun play of Caverna on a visit to see my friend Matt in Bedford, alongside a very narrow defeat at Forbidden Desert with Ann, Karl and Sarah at my place when they popped up for a visit. Matt had bought Caverna years earlier on his one trip to Essen but had never played it, so it was fun to teach and get it played after all this time. While we all enjoyed our trip to the desert (it was Ann and Karl’s first play of it), despite a little bad luck preventing us from getting over the line.
  • June: The start of the month was dominated by UK Games Expo, at which i spent much of my time demoing three new LudiCreations titles to journalists. The best of those was the fantastic small box card game Iunu and the most fun play was probably with Sean and Ronan from The Game Pit podcast – the two of whom duly thrashed me into last place (but I was promoting the game, so it was my job – all deliberate, I swear…). It meant I couldn’t really review the game, but I can comfortably say it was one of my favourite new titles of the year.
  • July: The month my copy of Terraforming Mars finally arrived – leading to eight plays of the game in a week, five of which were solo. I haven’t played the game much as i’d like to have since due to other commitments but it’s the first time a game has come along that has genuinely threatened by number one game spot since Race for the Galaxy took the crown all those years ago. The highlight was probably my fifth solo play, which was my first solo win (with Inventrix on 69 points). It amazed me how different each solo game was – and is now making me want to go and set it up rather than keep writing this…
  • August: While the actual highlight of the month was a long weekend away in Ghent, the gaming highlight was oddly a heavy defeat. Sarah is taking a shine to tile and route building games, so Maori seemed a strong contender – and a real favourite for me anyway. I won our first play but she requested it the following weekend – and schooled me 34-23. What’s great was her requesting a game she’d really liked that was one of my favourites, but also the fact she’d already totally grocked it and handed out a solid beating!
  • September: A great month for gaming that included a lovely visit to Sean and Natalie (of Game Pit ‘fame’). We had some really great plays including Vikings, Amerigo, Bora Bora and Mansions of Madness – but they were slightly surpassed by a game of Aqua Romana at Tom’s house warming games day in London. Tom taught myself, Jee and Paul this mean little game and I immediately (more by luck than judgement) started to block Tom off all over the place. I think he ran out of swear words by the end and to top it all, despite his superior knowledge of the game, I just managed to pip him to the victory.
  • October: The night before heading to Essen I popped into London on Board for the evening, which was largely notable for playing Century: Spice Road – one of the most boring and definitely the most over-hyped game of the year. It is a boring mechanic boiled down to its most basic form – what on earth do people see in it? The actual gaming highlights happened in hotels in Germany: a toss up between Heaven and Ale with Tom in The Holiday Inn and The Climbers with some of the lovely Danish contingent in Hotel Motel One.
  • November: This was largely a month of Essen releases played both at home and at Eastbourne (at LoBstercon). There were of course loads of highlights but its hard to beat our traditional drunken game of Eldritch Horror (once again with The Game Pit crew) – although my debut plays of Azul, Pulsar 2849 and Ex Libris came close. What made the Eldritch Horror game stand out was the ease of victory. Normally we get totally destroyed, but this was the complete opposite. I swear at one point we flipped a card and got sent on a spa trip or something – it was bizarre and i’m not totally convinced I didn’t dream the whole thing…
  • December: I managed two trips to see Karl and Ann in London as well as NYE away with Sarah in the New Forest, all of which were punctuated with some brilliant games. But my favourite play was at home, introducing Sarah to another one of my favourites – Macao. I thought it could go either way but luckily she enjoyed it, and better still it was a super close game that I just managed to win 80-77. That’s nothing to be proud of, as it was my 20th play and Sarah’s first! But games are always better when they go to the wire and I really couldn’t call this one as we went into final scoring. Like so many games, I just wish I could play it more often. Can I retire yet, please?

My most played games in 2016

Prototype plays (53) was way down on previous years, showing what a poor year I had in terms of design time (all my own fault). I played a total of 160 different published games in 2017, 16 of which I played five times or more. The most played were:

With the exception of Ticket to Ride, it’s all change since 2016. Missing from last year’s list are Race for the Galaxy (5 plays), Empire Engine and Can’t Stop (both with 4 plays), Game of Trains (2) and Love Letter (1). It’s the first year since doing this that Race has dropped out of the top slots but all these games could easily pop back into reckoning next year (I had three plays of Race in the first week of this year!): they’re still all favourites.

Other older games with a good number of plays included Africana, Thurn and Taxis and Maori (5 plays each), plus Carcassonne: Hunters and Gathers and Handler der Karibik – largely due to Sarah taking a shine to them. Let’s see how many of those are still high on her list this time next year.

I got Caylus and The Little Prince played this year, leaving just Brass, Lost Valley and Manilla on the unplayed since 2014 list (for shame!). None of them are ‘Sarah and me’ games, so I’ll have to look elsewhere to get my fix of those in 2018! Speaking of which…

How is 2018 shaping up?

In terms of game design, I’m sad to say I still feel largely downbeat. I’m finding it very hard to motivate myself to design, while several projects I’d thought were finished look as if they’ll need a lot more work in 2018.

It’s great that i have three games signed to publishers that may see the light of day this year, but all of them may need more development time. On the plus side Pioneer Days should finally hit the stores this month or next, and I’m very proud of the finished product.

My lack of design work last year means a trip to Nuremberg would be pointless; I don’t really have anything new to sell. David and me have two other games with a number of publishers, so are still waiting to hear if anything might happen with those. And hopefully by Essen (or maybe even UK Games Expo) later this year I’ll have some new projects to show off – if I can find some motivation!

SorCon and Eastbourne will once again be my con highlights in terms of just sitting around and gaming, while I’m also looking at heading to AireCon (more about that soon) – and possibly HanyCon later in the year. But several things this year have reminded me just how lucky I am to have my health and good people around me, so a fun year with a healthy dose of gaming will be more than enough to keep me happy.

Check here for part 1, which also has links to these posts from previous years

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