Top 10 board games of 2011

Welcome to my top 10 board games of 2011. The games released that year I like the most today. It was the first year I logged more than 300 plays on Board Game Geek, with more than 50 of those being Race for the Galaxy. But I played more than 60 different games in total. And went to my first board game convention, LoBsterCon. I was officially hooked!

Today I have five 2011 games in my collection (four below, plus BraveRats – a clever two-player micro game that didn’t quite make the list). While I’ve previously owned the likes of King of Tokyo (below), Pergamon (decent tile game you can try at Yucata) and Mage Knight (solid, but too long and dry for me).

Rhino Hero was probably number 11 – a fun balancing game for kids and adults alike. Euro games Hawaii (also on Yucata) and Walnut Grove don’t quite do it for me, but are popular with friends. While I enjoyed my play of light euro Airlines Europe – but no one I played with did. Also worthy of checking out, if they’re your thing, are Sentinels of the Multiverse (excellent co-operative superhero card game), Mansions of Madness (equally excellent horror co-op) and Infarkt (a comedy/medical worker placement game where you try not to have a heart attack – you have to play it to believe it…).

My Top 10 board games of 2011

10. King of Tokyo
3-6 players, 45-60 mins

This is one I owned, but not enough friends liked to bother keeping. Luckily it proved a massive hit, so I still get to play at cons – there’s usually a copy around. It’s a light Yahtzee-style dice combat game, with a great table presence. Lime green dice and chunky cardboard standees really add to the experience. While the mass of special powers (via cards) give the game plenty of variety. Really needs 4+ players to sing, due to the game’s core ‘king of the hill’ style knockout combat mechanism.

9. Friday
1 player, 30 mins

Friday is a great small box solo card game. Through a clever multi-use card system, you go through the card deck attempting to beat challenges to improve your character. You choose which of two challenges to face each time. The ones you beat are added to your own deck. But the ones you fail, or ignore, will come back harder the second time through. And the third. This keeps the game surprisingly varied each time. And the fact it packs down small makes it a great travel companion.

8. Drako: Dragon & Dwarves
2 players, 30 mins

Drako is a great two-player only asymmetric abstract game. One player plays the dragon; the other a set of three dwarves hunting it. Each side has a unique card deck they play through (once), trying to defeat their opponent. Otherwise the dragon escapes (and wins). The game plays out in a small arena and is cleverly balanced. The dragon is a single target, but dwarven hits can take out one of its powers – rendering some of its cards useless. While the dragon can move well, so ca try to target one dwarf at a time – or can just try to evade. Play online at Yucata.

7. Village
2-4 players, 90 mins

Village is a medium complexity euro game that still holds a place in the BGG Top 200 games. While largely a standard worker placement/contract fulfilment game, it stands apart thanks to its generations mechanism. Over time your workers grow old and die, leaving behind a legacy for latter generations of workers. This twist is enough to make it stand out, and stand the test of time. As does its really well-balanced mix of tactical and strategic decisions. Play online at Tabletopia.

6. Letters From Whitechapel
2-6 players, 1-2 hours

Now for a one-versus-all co-operative game. Essentially Scotland Yard on steroids, one player is Jack the Ripper attempting to avoid the authorities. London is represented on a huge, gorgeous map containing 200 locations. Over a series of rounds, Jack announces where his latest victim is – and then tries to get back to his set hideout. Each murder should let the investigators narrow down where they think the hideout is. But if Jack escapes after his fifth murder, he wins. Brilliant with the right crowd.

Top 10 board games of 2011 – The Top 5

5. Artus
2-4 players, 60 mins

Somehow this little abstract ranks a lowly 3,537th in the BGG listings. Especially when you note it is designed by famed pairing Kramer and Kiesling. But I’m really fond of it. Players jostle for the best seats around King Arthur’s round table, with different seats being worth points. You play cards each turn to manipulate positions, but also to trigger scoring. You all have the same set of cards, and have to use them all, so it’s a constant battle trying to set yourself up to score. A unique, chaotic and fun experience.

4. Trajan
2-4 players, 2 hours

Trajan is a typically point salady euro game from Stefan Feld, with a tricksy mancala mechanism. The game is really in the mancala, as you try to manipulate different coloured stones into the right places to pull off powerful actions. This is a clever, brain-burning challenge. But the rest is a little bit bog-standard (claim board spaces, gain bonuses, get resources etc). It’s good, but it is telling I’ve never picked it up – and it’s not even (spoiler alert) his best game of 2011. But then I’d never turn down a game and always enjoy it.

3. Castles of Burgundy
2-4 players, 60-90 mins

Considered by many to be Stefan Feld’s best design, Burgundy still ranks in the BGG Top 20 games of all time. A simple dice mechanism sees players competing for tiles, which they place on their own board to score points. Players are largely doing the same thing. But it is the ebb and flow of point scoring, and how timing is so key, that makes it sing. It has the classic Feld euro tropes: loads of ways to score points, plus lots of luck – alongside time/action consuming ways to mitigate it. Play online at Yucata.

2. Vanuatu
2-5 players, 90 mins

Beating the two Felds to ‘number 1 euro of 2011’ is this gem. It looks friendly, with pretty islands and turtles. But just below the surface is a mean and interactive worker placement game. It’s kind of an action auction, as you have to have the most workers on an action to do it next. This means you can risk spreading your workers thin, but if you get to your turn and don’t have the lead on any actions – you can’t do anything. And worse, you have to remove a worker from the board. Tough, clever, brilliant. Play online at Boite a Jeux.

1. Kingdom Builder
2-6 players, 60 mins

Kingdom Builder is somewhere on the family game/light euro spectrum. But whether you like it seems to very much black or white. The divisiveness stems from the central mechanism: draw a card, and place pieces on board spaces matching that colour. People have issues with this, because once you’ve places pieces you have to build out from those if you can. This means bad early placement can really limit your options – making for a bad first experience. But it really is worth sticking with. Check out my review for more (linked in the game title). Play online at Board Game Arena.

Notable titles that didn’t make my list

Overall, it was a strong year for releases. There are still 30 2011 games in the Board Game Geek Top 500; with 4 in top 100 and one of those in top 20. Of those, games notable for their absence below include Eclipse (OK space 4X, but soon became tedious and predictable); Ora et Labora (resource conversion ad nauseum); and A Few Acres of Snow (clever historical deck-builder that just didn’t grab me).

Top games in the ‘I need to get around to playing those’ list were Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and Sekigahara. But if I missed anything let me know and I’ll give them a go.

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