It’s been a whirlwind year and Jobby has played lots of new (to him) stuff. Here he recounts his ten favourites…
New To Me, That Is
Before I begin my countdown, it should be noted that this list is composed of games new to me this year. There a couple of games that came out in 2018 and about half are from 2017 but the rest are older. As I compiled this list I was surprised by the general flavour of the titles I have included; you’ll see. 🙂 Right, here goes…
10. Kamisado (2008)
Such a simple premise – get one of your towers from the line of squares in front of you to anywhere on the line of squares in front of your opponent. The tricky bit? The tower you are allowed to move is dictated by the colour your opponent finished on and you can only ever move forwards including diagonally.
Sarah and I tried this for the first time at UKGE this year and have since picked up the travel edition. I still cannot wrap my head around it! It seems so simple but putting together a plan and executing it seems so hard! I really enjoy this and fits nicely into my ‘2-player-down-the-pub’ collection of games.
9. Professor Evil (2017)
The mad Professor Evil has travelled through time to steal lots of historically important artefacts which he now wants to put in his safe. The players must work together to switch off all the traps and rescue the artefacts. Simple, eh?
No, it’s not! I’m not even sure where I first heard of this but was delighted when I bought it on a whim and it turned out really good. The rules are simple enough but the game continues to frustrate. On harder modes the players will find themselves having to use plenty of tricks to win. The central time mechanism where there is a different time limit on each artefact is simply great. Even if the presentation of the game was rubbish (it isn’t!) it would be worth playing just for that time thing!
8. Petrichor (2018)
A game where you control a cloud and want to rain on the best crops? Eh? That is just what this game is. It is also incredibly beautiful and really, really tough.
From the cute little cloud ‘dishes’ to the lovely little lightning bolts that are attached to those clouds when they become a thundercloud this game is presented amazingly. Yet under that beauty is some tough decisions and a lot of forward thinking. This was on my ‘to look out for’ list at UKGE this year and it didn’t disappoint!
7. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (2016)
A co-op deckbuilder where players defend famous locations in the Harry Potter universe from evil villains (also from said universe). How is this going to be better than Legendary Encounter: An Alien Deckbuilding Game? Well, it’s not but I can play this with my daughter!
Having said that, it is really enjoyable. The way the game plays through the books and adds new rules and cards with each book is nice. There’s a couple of surprises, too. True, it does start off far too easy with the first four games being pretty simple for seasoned gamers. The last few games really ramp up the difficulty with game 5 taking us about six plays to beat! By the end players are really having to work every trick they can to beat You-Know-Who! I’m looking forward to picking up the expansion.
6. Charterstone (2017)
Ah, Legacy games. Games where players permanently change the components of the game. I’ve always hated the idea primarily because after 15 or so plays you’re done and can’t really play the game anymore. Along came Charterstone, a Legacy game where those first twelve plays of the campaign are building the board so that the players are left with a fully playable worker placement game at the end. I was sucked in and Sarah and I bought a copy with Rob and Kelly, our gaming neighbours.
As of writing this, we’ve played eight of the twelve campaign games. I’m not going to spoil anything but it’s a solid worker placement game with some lovely cute art. The first few games take a while because a lot of new rules are revealed but it has got smoother as we’ve played more. Plus, there have been some really great surprises! I’m looking forward to seeing what the end is like (which will be April)
5. The Fox in the Forest (2017)
A trick taking game for two players? How does that work? Surely there’s just the problem that it can be easy in these types of games for one player to rush ahead and stomp on the other player? There’s a twist? Oh, why didn’t you say?
The twist that makes The Fox in the Forest work is that players score points each round according to how many tricks they’ve won. It’s not as simple as more points for more tricks. Win too many and you’re labelled ‘greedy’ and get zero points while your opponent gets loads. It adds an interesting layer where you find yourself working out how to win or lose just enough tricks to get good points. I have been on the receiving end of my daughter teaching me a lesson as she forced me to win all of the tricks! Incredible. The beautiful artwork is simple the sweet icing on a deliciously moist cake.
4. Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan (2011)
I think I’ve always fancied the idea of wargames but have never took the plunge (unless you count the solo-only Navajo Wars which topped my Top 10 of 2016). I always thought I’d have a problem with finding someone to play against. I say Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan in one of our FLGSs and expressed interest. “I’ll give it a go!” said Sarah. She never did but luckily my gaming neighbour, Rob, stepped up.
This is a block wargame that (obviously) tells of the Battle of Sekigahara. One player controls Tokugawa Ieyasu and is seeking to kill the child heir who is defended by Ishida Mitsunari. The game simulates the uncertainties of that conflict in two ways. Firstly the blocks create a fog-of-war effect – you know your opponent has four blocks in that city but you don’t know how strong those units are until you engage with them. Secondly, each players’ units can only be commited to battle by playing the matching cards after battle has begun. This leads to some great tension in the game and in our couple of plays we’ve both cursed aloud when our bluff has been called or punched the air when the enemy has fallen into our trap. This game truly deserves its reputation.
3. Mini Rails (2017)
And here’s where the surprises really started. I normally like big, heavy games. Food Chain Magnate, Dungeon Lords and the ilk. This year, I was only grabbed by Petrichor and Sekigahara. I have discovered a love for simple games with a lot of depth of strategy to discover, possibly due to restrictions in free time. The first of these types of games is Mini Rails.
Mini Rails is a game that attempts to simulate the rail and stocks type games normally represented by the mammoth 18xx games but condenses it down to 40 minutes or so. The rules are so simple and I have tried to ensure this gets played a lot during meetups of a local gaming group. There is a beauty in how simple this game is but how it allows players to mess with each others’ plans or play quiet and sneak a win under the radar. I’m hoping that this will turn into a regular favourite.
2. Tulip Bubble (2017)
Another in my new love of simple-but-deep games is Tulip Bubble. A game about trading tulip bulbs in 1637. A little more complicated than Mini Rails but still quite simple, I have had a lot of fun with everyone I have played it with. Like the market bubble the game simulates, players will be investing heavily in tulips hoping to buy cheap and sell high. Sometimes they’ll even get the bank to pay for the tulips!
A game of this with my ‘heavy gamer’ friends resulted in much merriment as the maths guy kept getting the bank to pay for his tulips. “This is how markets work!” he exclaimed before losing atrociously. During a game with my twelve year old daughter she declared that she had a spreadsheet running in her head of the prices she’d paid for her tulips. She came a ridiculously close second being pipped by my fiancée by only one guilder!
1. The Estates (2018)
The winner this year for me is The Estates which must be king of simple but deep games. And mean. Oh so mean! On their turn a player auctions a piece then decides whether to sell to the highest bidder or buy off the highest bidder. The economy is closed as there is no way to bring more money into the game. However, players can slowly take money out of the game to bank as points at the end.
It’s all pretty simple stuff and looks great on the table. It also brings out the worst in people. Control of the game is totally in the players’ hands. Buildings only score positively if the row they are in is complete and lose points otherwise. This has led to games where a player has deliberately set it up so that rows can’t be finished. Once you know a player is doomed, start piling up their cubes so they lose more points. Luckily the game plays quickly so nobody has to sit there for two hours getting beaten into the dirt. I can’t recommend this game enough!
What were your favourites this year? List them in the comments below!