Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Game of the Year

Here we are at the end of 2008. 12 short months ago, my goal was simply to play five new games in the coming year. It was a modest goal, but back then I didn't play board games very much.

I played the first new game of the year on January 18. The game was Kings Keep and the venue was Paul & Narelle's house. Joining us that evening was a friend of theirs by the name of Bernd. It turned out Bernd hosted regular games nights at his place. He called this little gathering HoGS - the Hobart Games Society.

Discovering HoGS changed everything. The Giggling One and I rocked up to our first HoGS night on February 1st. That night we played four new games, and my goal was achieved. Just like that.

A rethink was in order, and after a quick calculation, I reset the bar at 25.

I reached game 25 on October 18, and went on to play a further six new games, bringing the total to 31 for the year. Admittedly, three of the games I included on the list were expansions, so it's 28 if you don't count expansions as "new".

So looking at those 28 games, I figured I'd make a good old Top Ten list of my favourite games of 2008.

So here it is. It wasn't the easiest of lists as I enjoyed almost all of the games. And that was the key factor: enjoyment. These our the games I liked the most.

To simplify the task somewhat, I went through the list of games and short-listed those that I enjoyed the most. That short-list contained 11 games. Through a process of elimination (or inclusion) I settled on my top 10 before ranking them. Incidentally, the honourable mention for the unlucky 11th game goes to Wits & Wagers. On to the Top 10...

#10 - The Princes of Florence

What I said: [We] thoroughly enjoyed the game. I imagine having 5 players instead of 3 makes the Auction phase a whole new ball game.

Justify yourself: While deserving its place in the Top 10, having a deeper underlying strategy than it may first appear, The Princes of Florence wasn't quite engaging enough to rank higher. I'm not the greatest fan of auction mechanics in games, but it was made easier with only three of us playing. The design-your-own-principality aspect of the game was fun - a sort of game within a game. Planning and modifying your strategy to maximise your points is the key to winning, and with multiple ways of earning points limited by the seven game turns, the result is a pleasing strategic mix.

#9 - Ca$h 'n Gun$

What I said: I have to say that I've never had so much fun pointing a foam gun at someone else's head.

Justify yourself: Foam guns are where it's at. This game is all about the fun you get from pointing orange guns at other people, and the ensuing laughter when someone discovers that everyone else has chosen to target them. A deeply strategic game this is not. There is a little strategy but ultimately Ca$h 'n Gun$ is a short, fun diversion that you have to play at least two or three times each time you pull it out.

#8 - Carcassonne

What I said: You know what? It wasn't as good as I thought it would be. I never expected Carcassonne to be so..simple.

Justify yourself: Carcassonne is known as a gateway game for a reason. It's very easy to pick up and is light on strategy. It's fun and clever, which is why it has spawned so many expansions. Discounting "The River" (which adds a few tiles but doesn't change the gameplay), the lone expansion I've played - "The Tower" - adds a level of vindictiveness to an otherwise friendly game, and the jury is out on that one. If light is your cup of tea, then Carcassonne is a worthy game.

#7 - Power Grid

What I said: 'Twas a good game...[I] came away with a positive view.

Justify yourself: Not particularly useful comments there, but as I said in my review, I was in two minds about Power Grid before playing it. From reviews that I have read, it tends to be a game you either love or hate. I wouldn't say I "love" it, but I'm definitely lying towards that end of the spectrum. The clever use of the resource market, coupled with the power plant auctions and map placements makes for a cunning game.

#6 - Zombie Fluxx

What I said: Groooooooaaaannnn!

Justify yourself: Well, I said that during a game. I haven't blogged about it yet, which is very slack of me. Zombie Fluxx is the highest rated "light and fun" game on my list. It ranks this high due to the sheer amount of fun to be found in the 99 card deck. I promise to review it next year, but all you need to know in the meantime is Zombies + Everchanging Rules = Max fun.

#5 - Tigris & Euphrates

What I said: [I thought] I wasn't going to enjoy it. It looked too chess like. I'm happy to report that I was wrong. I really enjoyed the game.

Justify yourself: T&E makes it all the way to #5 courtesy of the surprisingly enjoyable mechanics. After reading about the game, and finding out it involved placing tiles on a board, I was worried. I shouldn't have been. It is nothing like Chess or Othello. Instead T&E is its own breed of simple tile laying mixed with a complex underlying strategy that results in a beguiling and intriguing game.

#4 - Agricola

What I said: n/a

Justify yourself: I'm waiting until I play a game with 3 or more players before I blog about Agricola. I've mentioned more than once that it is the new number #1 on Board Game Geek, and from my lone play through I can see the attraction. With so many cards available, Agricola lends itself to a slightly different experience each time. The key is combing the cards you are dealt with the known actions available throughout the game. I must admit, the anticipation of playing Agricola, and the ensuing enjoyment of the two-player game is what shoots it to number 4 on my list. And that's without animeeples. Will it manage to stay this high on the list over the coming 12 months? I have a sneaking suspicion it might.

#3 - Puerto Rico

What I said: I almost feel like a real gamer now. Everyone really enjoyed the game. One more to add to the ever growing must-play-again list.

Justify yourself: No other game was as eagerly anticipated this year as Puerto Rico. It has been the benchmark for all other games for the last few years, and my gaming quest would never have been truly complete without playing it. Like Agricola, I've only played it once (a five player game), and all I can say is that the genius mechanics and player interaction make this a must-play for anyone who considers themselves a gamer.

#2 - Catan Card Game

What I said: If you're a Settlers fan and have that special someone who enjoys the game as well, then this is a worthy consideration of your hard earned moolah.

Justify yourself: I was surprised as anyone that a two player card game made it to #2. However, I couldn't deny it this position. While I still think it could make a fun three or four player game with a couple of tweaks, it is nonetheless a very enjoyable game with just two. The Giggling One and I played the Catan Card Game many times this year, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Aided by the expansion sets, it is easy to learn, simple to set up, and allows for some cunning strategies. It's great for fans of the Catan series and newcomers alike, and is perfect for a lazy afternoon with that special someone.

#1 - The Pillars of the Earth

What I said: It was a joy to play a game that made reference to the events and characters within [the novel]. If you enjoy board games, then this is a great game to play. Easy enough for board game novices to understand and enjoy, and deep enough for veterans to have fun with as well. It rocks!

Justify yourself: No surprises here. "Pillars" was always going to be my game of the year. While I um'd and ah'd about the make up and order of this Top 10, it was only spots 2 to 10 that I debated. Pillars has a great balance of strategy accompanied by a dabble of luck. Despite only lasting six rounds, what it packs into those rounds is fun, exciting, and sometimes frustrating. Never frustrating enough to break the game mind you - just to curse your opponents. Awesome mechanics and a fantastically illustrated board set Pillars well above any other game I played this year. The expansion added that little bit extra to share the cathedral-building love with another two players, and there's nothing better than sharing this game with as many gamers as you can. Read the novel and play the game. Then read the sequel. You won't regret it.

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