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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Monday, December 26, 2005

Spiel des Dave - and other awards

My 2005 Gaming summary: What with spending March in China and introducing a first child to my household, my “games played” total is certainly the lowest it has been since moving to Oregon eight years ago. However, I was still able to make it to two cons, and other members of RipCityGamers had goodies from Essen, so I was exposed to most of the new titles. Overall, I thought 2005 was a very decent year for new releases; not nearly as bad as 2003, but a big drop from the banner year that was 2004. Note: All awards are purely subjective (e.g., “best” means “my most favorite”).

Most-played multi-player: With a continuous influx of new titles, there probably weren’t more than a couple of mutli-player games that I played five or more times. It is probably not a big surprise that the game that received the most plays was Havoc: the Hundred Years War, winning approximately two-thirds of the matches. Honorable Mention goes to Wyatt Earp, which has become our group’s standard “waiting for other players to show up” game.

Most-played 2-player: Not counting the conventions, I probably played more 2-player games than multi-player this year, and most of these were with one particular individual. Most commonly played was A Game of Thrones CCG, including a regional tournament. As it turns out, we decided to stop playing the game as of the latest base set (Winter Edition), given that the local tournament scene came to a halt this summer. Honorable Mention: In the second half of the year, I dragged Dungeon Twister and Roma to every gaming session, teaching it to folks whenever the opportunity arose.

New release I did not get a chance to play, but am most looking forward to: This past year, I was pleasantly surprised by my first plays of Klaus Teuber’s Anno 1503 and Candamir: The First Settlers; while Elasund: The First City of Catan is reportedly more in the tile-laying genre than exploration, I look forward to the higher level of direct player interaction. Honorable mention: Antike; Antiquity; Dragonriders; Neuland; Nexus Ops; PÜNCT; Reef Encounter; Vegas Showdown. And I am still waiting for my first match of TI3

New release I did not get a chance to play, and am most glad to have passed over: – I usually give games the benefit of a doubt, even after an initial disappointing match. However, every year I usually make a couple of exceptions. I actually bought Heart of Africa, brought it to a gaming weekend, opened it up, read the rules, packed it away, and sold it at a local auction unplayed. The whole game looked rather uninspired, and the bidding for the privilege to actually take a turn seemed tedious and prone to breakage. There are better games of its ilk that aren’t receiving enough table time as it is. Really pretty box, though... Honorable mention: Anything to do with Sudoku [naughty analogy omitted - let's just say that some puzzles were made to be played alone].

Netizen of the Year: Shannon Appelcline’s reviews on rpg.net (ex: El Grande) are underrated/underexposed (but I suppose that’s what he gets for putting them there instead of directly onto BoardGameGeek), and his entries on Gone Gaming mirror the care and thought (and, some may say, pedantry) that went into the now-defunct The Games Journal.

Most misunderstood game: Havoc: the Hundred Years War is not a “poker variant”. The bluffing element is vastly overrated. And it is nothing like Taj Mahal. Havoc is mostly a rummy variant, with a “choose your battles” element that’s reminiscent of area-control games.

Most heartening trend: In 2005, Fantasy Flight Games spent less time on its smaller Silver Line titles and was able to put out a record number of their big box titles. Avalon Hill (Hasbro) continues to be no stranger to the plastic figurine. I may be in the minority, but I think it is great that so many big sloppy “toys” are being released; if I were a teenage boy today, I would be ecstatic to find one of these puppies on Christmas morning. Seriously, I pity the kid who gets Carcassone as a gift; I suppose it is just the thing to play in between PBS specials, right?

Most disappointing flaw: Manila and Roma both suffer from severe variation in playing time. Both have enough going for them to continue to see play, but it really limits when you can pull it out, and you run the risk of having a protracted, tedious ending. It’s certainly not as bad as last year’s trend, where Tongiaki & La Strada both suffered immensely from the latter seating positions having major disadvantages.

Worst release of 2005: Note that I count releases from Essen 2004 onward.

Australia – All spaces are point-equivalent; as such, it seems the simple most effective strategy is to have your plane near a space that gets scored (either by you or an opponent) so you can pick up a ton of your guys and try again. It ends up being a dull exercise in efficiency.

Caylus – Ystari Games marries my very favorite game mechanism (action selection) with my very least favorite victory objective (do-a-bunch-of-stuff-get-a-bunch-of-points). Unfortunately, it is far too long for a game that is, too me, overly tactical.

Shadows Over Camelot – Play a ‘1’ against the Saxons; wait; play a ‘2’ against the Saxons; wait; … Compared to Lord of the Rings (previously, and perhaps still, the definitive cooperative game), there is not enough impact of one player’s actions on other players. The traitor mechanism is a good one; I wonder whether it was directly lifted from the superior Corrupt Hobbit LotR variant, which would be kinda ironic given how much input I gave into the latter.

YS – Ystari Games marries my very least favorite game mechanism (blind bidding) with my very least favorite victory objective (do-a-bunch-of-stuff-get-a-bunch-of-points). With nary a vestige of a theme, this is about as fun as solving linear equations for two hours.

Verflixxt (That’s Life) – Actually a decent family game; if you get stuck with a bad tile early on, there’s hope that you’ll earn a tile that multiples its value by -1. However, halfway through, the decisions get so obvious that I think this is a couple of steps back from the likes of Sorry!. Also, it has some of the worst illustrations seen in a game. I am still holding out hope that it would work okay for ~3 players, but I cannot imagine ever choosing this over the likes of Cartagena.

“Winner”: Shadows over Camelot. Play a ‘3’ against the Saxons; wait; play a ‘4’ against the Saxons; wait…

Real worst releases of 2005: As bad as the games were in the previous list, they at least serve to distract us from the real obvious turkeys out there: Camelot Legends, a logistical nightmare; Caravans of Ahldarahd, a beacon to warn strategy gamers against first-time publishers; Cow Poker, a horribly random trick-taking game with a horribly goofy theme; Die Baumeister Des Krimsutep, a horribly random trick-taking game with a horribly boring theme; and Moby Pick, which I mention because the other RipCityGamer members would lynch me if I failed to include it.

Best of 2005: My “best of year” awards for the 2000’s are three fantasy-themed games (Vortex; Cave Troll; A Fist of Dragonstones) sandwiched between two Knizia games (Taj Mahal; Einfach Genial). This year, in the absence of great Knizia releases, will a fantasy-themed game rise to the top again?

Candamir: The First Settlers – A delightful adventure game with a risk/reward system that is, in places, more original and deeper than Beowulf’s system. If I had to give up my game collection save ten, this would be one of the keepers, if only to play with my daughter when she is older.

Dungeon Twister – A lean design that can easily support additional characters, items, spells, etc., but the wide-open board gives it a very loose feel. It amazes me how thematic this game feels given the simple rules and low-tech production.

Crusader Rex – Finally, there is a “block game” that I am looking forward to playing again. The key differences here are (1) the wide-open point-to-point movement allowing for much maneuverability; and (2) the siege rules, which leads to delicious decision-making similar to that found in Hannibal’s sieges.

Lost Valley – This is a wonderfully themed exploration game. I can sympathize with those that complain about the need to leech off of other’s investments, but I like how it results in a tight little puzzle, where you have to figure out how to outscore your opponents who would like nothing better than leech off of you. The risk/reward variation in hunting may be a bit much; if one player gets lucky early, others may be “forced” to take these risks to have a hope of keeping up.

Techno Witches – I loves me the planning games, and I really like the analog nature of the spatial element here. It really feels like nothing else out there, and the scenario system will give it sufficient replayability.

Honorable mention: Diamant; Carcassone: the Discovery; Empire of the Sun; Freya’s Folly; Struggle of Empires.

Winner: Dungeon Twister. Yup, it’s back to fantasy. I have not been this excited while playing a game since Taj – and I still haven’t played any of the scenarios except for the base game. With Paladins & Dragons (and, hopefully, Fire & Water and/or Powers of Darkness) being released in English in 2006, I will likely be tested a year from now for the first time as to whether or not to consider expansions for this award.

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