Sunday, January 02, 2011

2010 WAGS Year in Review

2010 has drawn to a close. Here's a quick look at what we played this year.

10 plays

7 plays
Mr. Jack

6 plays

4 plays
Bacchus' Banquet
Chaos in the Old World

3 plays
Warrior Knights

2 plays
A Game of Thrones
Beowulf: The Legend
Carcassonne: the City
Dice Town
Glory to Rome
I'm the Boss!`
Jungle Speed
Ra: the Dice game
Small World
The End of the Triumvirate

1 play
Dungeon twister
1960: The making of the President
Alien Frontier
Battle Line
Cutthroat Caverns
Die Macher
Dominant Species
Dungeon Lords
Galaxy Trucker
High Frontier
In the Year of the Dragon
Le havre
Lords of Vegas
Louis XIV
Mare Nostrum
Race for the Galaxy
Roll Through the Ages
The Fires of Midway
Through the Ages
Way Out West

So, that's 96 plays of 49 different games, a little below average for us.

2010 was a very peculiar year at WAGS. We unfortunately lost a core member as Luch could no longer attend. We also dealt with some life/ work conflicts which shortened most of our game nights to 2-3 hours instead of the usual 4. The end result was that we played fewer games than past years, and most of them at 3 players. Although our collections are large, and we thankfully do have quite a selection of games that work well at 3, it's definitely not the sweet spot for games. With 3, there is very little opportunity to play negotiation games, bidding games or conflict games. Worst of all, El Grande doesn't play well at three, and this will be the first year in WAGS history that it didn't get to the table even once. Awful, I know.

Game of the Year
For me, 2010 had two distinct phases: Before the fall, and after the fall. For 3/4 of the year, very little of the new crop of games interested me. Since September, suddenly quite a few games were announced that I found very interesting (7 Wonders, Civilization, Lords of Vegas, Dominant Species, High Frontier, Space Frontiers, Earth Reborn, Death Angel, Luna, D&D Castle Ravenloft, etc) , but most were only available just too late in the year to get purchased/ played. During the early dry period, I picked up Cyclades and Macao, and liked both quite a bit. Over the course of the year, Macao was played several times and my interest in the game has only grown. It's hard to say whether the scarcity of interesting games was the cause for the repeat plays, but it's quite unusual for us to play a single game this often in a year. Although it's been criticized by others as being a bland and soulless euro, to me the boring theme and presentation are an unfortunate veneer on a very interesting game system. It's a solid mid/ heavy euro that plays really well from 2-4 players, that mixes efficiency engine with card drafting and luck in a really novel way. Macao is an easy game of the year for me.

Most innovative/ Interesting game of the Year
Although I didn't particularly enjoy my single play of it, High Frontier wins as the most original and interesting game I played this year. The map is so incredibly cool and nerdy that I almost want to buy it just to have that. I really enjoyed the different tech cards with their sketchbook illustrations of how the technologies are supposed to work. I'd like to play this one again since I discovered that I didn't really understand how to play, and I think it would be much more fun played correctly (though it wouldn't exactly be easy, as it is supposed to be a tough game).

A close runner up could have been Earth Reborn. The theme not the greatest (the designer, based on his character development in Dungeon Twister: Prison and Earth Reborn, isn't particularly gifted at creating compelling characters without falling into silly stereotypes and tired clichés). Still, from reading the rules I am very excited about what this game has to offer. It looks like a miniature/ dungeon crawl/ scenario game like Descent or the like, but there appears to be a very clever and flexible game system underneath which will allow varied game play with short sessions. The terrain and rooms can be interacted with, character actions are quite flexible yet still simple to manage, missions are story-like can be much more engaging than simple "kill everyone and get to the boss", etc, etc. It appears to be everything I loved about Duel of Ages, Dungeon Twister and Conflict of Heroes all wrapped up into one well produced and lavish game that works for 2-4 players. I am quite excited to play, but until I do I will reserve judgement.

Lords of Vegas also deserves to be mentioned. Although it's too early to tell, this may well be the Monopoly replacement I've been looking for. A few more plays with the group and hopefully a try or two with the extended family should confirm. It's got the trading, the negotiating and the speculating I've been looking for without all the things that drag down Monopoly (game length and arbitrary roll n' move/ cards, mostly). If it can prove as re-playable and accessible as I think it is, i'd be really happy.

Thoughts on 2010
Fewer games were purchased, and consequently fewer new games were played in 2010. Despite my game of the year, WAGS seemed to take a distinct lean away from pure euros this year and embraced more american style games. I suppose it's natural that as game design evolves some schools of games borrow from each other. Whereas american style games have always had compelling and well integrated theme, euros have always prided themselves on streamlined play and reasonable game length and collectible card games offered nearly endless variety, many recent games have managed to integrate elements of all of them. Two great examples are Cyclades and Chaos in the Old World, but other games such as the recently released D&D game, Earth Reborn and Death Angel show that games heavy in theme don't have to be overlong, clunky and random. Although my favorite games continue to be mid-heavy strategy euros, fewer of them feel vital enough to warrant being added to my collection. For whatever reason, these new hybrids catch my eye a little better and I'm more compelled to give them a try. Even many of the euros we did purchase this year featured a distinct increase in randomness and confrontation (Dominant Species and Lords of Vegas come to mind)

Also, Iphone games seemed to come out of the woodwork this year. I have purchased and played Ra, Carcassonne, Keltis, Medici and many others. I don't really see these as replacements for their boardgame equivalents as I don't really like playing hotseat style with other people, but when no human gaming opponents are present I quite enjoy playing a game against AI (or, occasionally, against a networked opponent).

On a personal note, gaming with my eldest son has been awesome this year. We are playing a lot of Thunderstone (this would easily be his game of the year, I'm sure). We've also played several games of Fresco, Agricola, Pandemic and others. Life is good!

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