2020 eh? One quarter normal, three quarters stuck at home. But thanks to a bunch of online platforms, my board game play count was up versus 2019. I got to play a bunch of slightly older games that had passed me by; several of which became instant favourites. While I soon learned to cherish those few opportunities to physically sit around a table. So despite the obvious, 2020 ended up being a pretty good year for my board gaming.
The year started well, with Sarah, me and two friends (Karl and Ann) doing a bit of gaming in a New Forest Air B&B. While I also got a couple of good game days in. February was SorCon, and March AireCon – but the country was literally locking down as I returned from Harrogate on the train. Sarah and me managed a couple of weekends away late summer, and we had a few local well ventilated sessions then too. But that was it for ‘real’ gaming.
2021’s SorCon has been cancelled, while any hopes for AireCon recede by the day. So it will be at least a full year without normality. But let’s not dwell on that. And instead get back to my gaming highlights of 2020. (Note: See end of post for links to online versions of many of the games mentioned.)
My 3 best ‘real’ gaming experiences of 2020
- SorCon: AireCon was weird. There was a strange atmosphere and low attendance due to the rising Covid tensions. Several people I’d hoped to game with didn’t come, leaving me a little rudderless. But SorCon the month before had been great. There’s something reassuringly average about a Holiday Inn. And it’s a con with a very friendly atmosphere. I got to play several favourites (Thurn & Taxis, Delphi, Pharaon, Snowdonia, Heaven & Ale). Some sillier games I rarely get to air out (Junk Art, Celestia). While also discovering an odd little card game (#MyLife).
- Lazy Sundays: I only really see Sarah properly once every couple of weekends, when she doesn’t have her kids. Which often end with a lazy Sunday morning rounded off with a few games. Early in 2020, I also got into the habit of going to my local pub on Sunday evenings to game with the landlord’s family. While Sunday also often includes an afternoon session with my Cambridge group. So a good Sunday could include a lie in, cooked breakfast, a proper beery evening and a good five games or so. That’s the life!
- AlexCon: OK it wasn’t a con. It was just a visit from main co-LoBsterCon organiser Alex. But in a year where I didn’t see some of my favourite people face-to-face at all, it felt significant! And he’d never been to my house, so the pressure was on. I even had a bath (no I didn’t). But whatever it wasn’t, it was a good two days of gaming. Ten games, including first plays for me of the marvellous Brass: Birmingham and Antiquity. While Sarah managed to pop over and beat us at Pharaon. We also played Azul, Pickomino, Bonfire and more. And I learned I don’t need to own Parks or Fox in the Forest (meh both).
Best individual plays: January to June 2020
January: Very much enjoyed a long 7th Continent session with Andy; while I lost a nail-biting Flamme Rouge when not drawing my final 7 on my last card draw. Either would’ve won most months – but a game of Concordia will live longest in the memory. It finished with scores of Karl 122, me 121 and Ann on 120. Absolutely epic play of one of my favourite games.
February: I don’t play my own games often, but really enjoyed my one 2020 play of Armageddon. It was with Dave, Lyndsey and Benjy upstairs at my local pub. Lyndsey got off to a flyer and looked to be coasting, but it pulled it back to only lose by 5 in the end (120-115). Dave and Benj niggling each other added comedy value and it’s always nice to teach people your own game and have them really enjoy it.
March: Despite AireCon, my favourite March play was a virtual game of Agricola on Boite a Jeux with Howie and Andy. It’s a game I enjoy but very rarely win. But this time I managed to get out of sync with my actions, allowing me to have little competition over my placements. I ended up seven points ahead of Howie on 40, which is the equivalent of a landslide victory for me.
April: I had some great online plays of some of my favourite games, including Terra Mystica and Concordia. But April’s highlight was learning to play fantastic solo game Nemo’s War. It follows the adventures of Captain Nemo and The Nautilus, with a variety of scenarios and story cards adding variety and flavour. The game is hard and puzzley, but the great art and use of text on the cards give it just enough theme and character.
May: I’m going to mention Fertility here. It’s a great, quick tile-laying game with very simple rules but lots or tactical and strategic depth. But just beating it to play of the month was an online game of Vanuatu with Chris and Jonathan. Neither of them had played it before, but it was a smooth teach and we all really enjoyed the play. It’s a super interactive worker placement game where clever play can really screw your opponents over.
June: One advantage of lockdown was looking elsewhere online to find games I’d never played, mostly with Alex. This included my first plays of many games in the Gipf series of abstracts (which are free to play on Boite a Jeux). They were all clever, but largely not my bag. But the exception was Dvonn. It’s fast with simple rules, but every move counts and if you’re lucky you can line up some killer moves. One I need to get in my collection.
Best individual plays: July to December 2020
July: An easy one, thanks to a five-game session of Race for the Galaxy with Howie and Andy. Yes, it’s my favourite game. But that wasn’t the reason it made this list. The credit here goes to the fantastic Steam implementation (which is less than £10). It makes the game a real pleasure to play online, with the first three expansions also available as DLC. Honourable mentions for learning games of the excellent Kanban and Mandala.
August: Several to choose from here, including my first plays in years of two games I really like. Firenze is up top of my wish list – a light euro which feels to me like an interactive and prettier Thurn and Taxis. While I also really enjoyed my re-introduction to worker placement classic Pillars of the Earth. But the win (just) goes to Nippon, another excellent worker placement game.
September: A lovely evening with my better half saw us play three great games. And it was a rare day when I won all three! I got a one-point win at Downfall of Pompeii; and put together a crushing final round in Azul. But topping that was a rare win at Targi. It’s a great two-player tableau-building gateway game. Resources can be tight, making every decision count. And you can really interfere with each other’s plans.
October: No Essen – boo! I really enjoyed learning new CGE games Arnak and Under Falling Skies, which gave me that new game vibe. But again it was two super close games with Sarah that stood out. We had a great game of Kingdomino (mighty duel), which she won by a point. But it was here two-point win at Thurn and Taxis that was the real highlight. It went right to the wire, being decided in the last couple of turns.
November: There’s something special about bringing someone into the board gaming fold. So this month’s pick goes to my first two plays of Ticket to Ride with local drinking buddy Vince. I don’t think he’ll ever be a ‘gamer’. But he’s taken to this and it has helped us both through the tough winter lockdown months. We’ve played four different maps now and he’s had his first win. And I can see a lot more defeats in my future…
December: Alex and I got a weekend of gaming in just before lockdown hit again. There were some great plays, but we agreed on the highlight – Brass: Birmingham. The original is the most criminally underplayed game on my shelves. So it was great to try this version. And what a great version it is. Route building, a tight economy and a good sprinkling of luck via the cards. I taught Sarah the original the next week, and she didn’t hate it!
Board game lockdown links
I linked to Boite a Jeux a couple of times in this post, and Steam; then realised there are several more of the games above that can also be played virtually. So rather than fiddling about trying to force links in, I’ve listed them below:
- Brass: Birmingham is available on Tabletopia.
- Concordia is at Boite a Jeux (including the Salsa expansion).
- Downfall of Pompeii is available on Yucata.
- Kingdomino is on Board Game Arena (you need a paid subscriber to start a game).
- Nemo’s War is available on Tabletopia.
- Nippon is surprisingly well implemented on Board Game Arena.
- Targi can be found on both Yucata and Board Game Arena.
- Thurn & Taxis is available on both Yucata and Board Game Arena. But the Yucata version has a far superior implementation, as well as the expansions.
- Ticket to Ride has a fantastic app that can be played on mobile (Apple and Android/Kindle) or via Steam. All the links are here.
- Under Falling Skies is free to try on Tabletopia.
- Vanuatu is available at Boite a Jeux.