Saturday, September 10, 2005

Last Year's Top 70 Games

At right you should see a new icon, "Views & Reviews". I'm doing my best to maintain a consistent style & tone at this blog, so that I always know what I'm talking about, and you always know what to expect. But I don't always want to be talking about the exact same thing. So I'm developing a few topics. You've already seen two of my "Don't Get Me Started" articles, which are rants. This is my first "Views & Reviews", which talks about my general assessment of games and the general art of reviewing.

On Listing A Year's Best Games

The IGA has been much in my mind lately, thanks to Coldfoot's posting and to a number of parallel threads on spielfrieks. So I've been wanting to offer my thoughts on the best games of the last year, but not as a typical IGA nomination response, because that inevitably involves a lot of, "Well, I've heard good things about this one, but since they inexplicably choose a small-press German game which about 100 people have copies of in the US, I naturally haven't gotten to play it and thus can't say".

Instead I offer the following: a list of the 70 "new" games that I've newly played in the last 12 months, ranked in order from my favorite to my least, with comments on each and links to any reviews that I've written (or in a few cases, session reports instead).

My definition of "new" is a bit loose. My main criteria was: played for me for the first time between 9/1/04 and 8/31/05, and released in either 2004 and 2005. I could have tightened that down to only releases in the fall of '04 or in '05, but I didn't want to do that much work, so I instead listed what was easy to identify based on BGG info. Also note that when I say "released" I really mean "available to the US". I did include a couple of German-only games that I happened to play, but more importantly listed reprints of games such as Santiago that finally made it to the US for the first time after being released in Germany in a previous year.

My ranking is also, at best, approximate. Every time I look at the list I move items up and down the list a little bit. I'm sure newer games are more highly or lowly ranked than they should be. Caravans, for example, wasn't the worst game of the year despite its position at #70, but it was the game which caused me the most pain the most recently.

Also please note that, unlike my normal reviews, this is a true listing of games I like as opposed to games that I think are good. To put that in perspective: I like games of all weights, from light to German-heavy (though not wargame-heavy), but I suspect I enjoy light games more than a lot of people. I'm not that fond of analytical games which require me to count or think many, many moves head, and thus games like Santiago or Power Grid would end up lower than most would rank them. Conversely I do want thoughtful games, and if something is just an exercise in randomness with no real strategy, I'll quickly discard it. (Betrayal at House on the Hill, I'm talking to you.)

With that said, here's my listing of the top 70 games in the last year+. And the bottom 70 games. Or, most correctly, all 70 new-ish games that I've newly played.

My Listing of the 70 New Games I've Played

Generally I think that #1-#10 are top notch, #1-#25 were worth buying, and #26-#50 are mostly worth playing.
  1. Australia - A fun puzzle game that I think deserves a lot more recognition than it's gotten and shame on me for not reviewing it yet. (Medium)
  2. In the Shadow of the Emperor - Though I have some concerns about degenerate strategies, I'm currently very happy with this game, and it'd get a lot more play if it weren't fairly long. (Heavy)
  3. Tower of Babel - This seems like a great "simple" Knizia that still has strategic complexity, but I'm in the honeymoon phase after just one game. (Medium)
  4. Shadows over Camelot - Great color, great fun, nice for a real change of gaming pace. (Medium)
  5. Around the World in 80 Days - A very nicely done card-movement game. (Light)
  6. Ticket to Ride Europe - A great, slightly heavier sequel to a great game. (Light)
  7. Rumis - This hasn't gotten as much play lately, but the colored blocks still call out to me whenever I look at the box, and I have fun whenever I play it. (Filler)
  8. Maharaja - I can't believe this has only gotten 2 plays! It's a good game with some fun play, that somehow continually manages to not hit the table. (Heavy)
  9. Struggle of Empires - Would probably play this with some regularity if it weren't so long, and I'm hoping that Conquest of the Empire will be even better. (Heavy)
  10. Ingenious - Totally abstract, but fun and thoughtful gameplay. (Light)
  11. China - A great majority control game, but somewhat limited due to weight. (Light)
  12. Cargo - This is a neat puzzle game. It deserves more attention. (Medium)
  13. Oltremare - A fine trading game, though a little long. I expect my experience to go up if the components are improved on the new edition. (Light)
  14. Parthenon: Rise of the Aegean - A good resource/building game with neat trade mechanisms. I suspect it works even better among experienced players using the "Tournament" rules. (Medium)
  15. Alexander the Great - I expect that my rating of this may fluctuate, but thus far it's an intriguing and original game. (Medium)
  16. Caribbean - A very nice blind-bidding game that moves fast and has some original ideas. (Light)
  17. Blue Moon - This probably predates my time period, but it was a 2004 release, and I started playing it after last September. I like this but haven't been very successful in getting partners to play it so it may be getting some extra weight due to the fact that I want to play it more than I can. Still, a very clever CCG-like model. (Light)
  18. Louis XIV - Some neat, thoughtful systems, but nothing that really calls to me thus far. (Medium)
  19. For Sale - The combination of quick, light play, some strategy, and small size has this ending up in my game bag about half the time. And I finally won a game in Indianapolis! (Filler)
  20. Der Untergang von Pompeji - Not a lot of substance to this game, but it always keeps me interested and makes me smile. (Light)
  21. High Bohn Plus - Reflecting of my current assessment of Bohnanza + High Bohn Plus. This game would get a lot more play if it were just 1/3rd shorter. (Light)
  22. Russian Rails - I do like these games, and wish that they weren't so long & had been redesigned sometime in the last 25 years. (Medium)
  23. Saboteur - A great, original filler, with additional kudos because it goes up to 10 players. (Filler)
  24. Razzia! - Somehow after continued play this one just doesn't hold up to its big brother, and I think it's mainly a matter of aesthetics. I'm looking forward to the full Ra release. (Medium)
  25. Tutankhamen - A pretty decent light game. (Light)
  26. Amazonas - I can't believe how far this one has dropped off my radar since its release. It was a somewhat interesting game, but it's generated zero replay. (Medium)
  27. Primordial Soup - Some great ideas & gameplay, but also a little long because it gets repetitive at the end. (Heavy)
  28. Marco Polo Expedition - A neat cardplay game that seems to have failed simply because it's not a Knizia gamer's game. (Light)
  29. Heart of Africa - Overly complex, but with some neat ideas. I'd play it again. (Heavy)
  30. Iglu Iglu - Some amusing play, and it'll come out again, but it lost some of its luster after a few times through. (Light)
  31. Trump, Tricks, Game - Currently my first pick for a trick-taking game, I just don't play many of those. (Light)
  32. Go West! - Too many calculations to have it be common filler play, but the small box-size and big strategy will probably cause it to get pulled out occasionally. (Medium/Filler)
  33. Boomtown - An OK auction game with some nice color, but it always strikes me as a little long. (Medium)
  34. Jambo - Something about the randomness of this game just doesn't do it for me. (Light)
  35. Oceania - Somehow this doesn't thrill me quite as much as its big brother. Still, a fun game. (Light)
  36. Santiago - A little too arithmetic & calculatory for my tastes, but some pretty pieces and neat design. (Medium)
  37. TransEuropa - OK, but not very filling. (Filler)
  38. Cthulhu 500 - This was a lot of fun, though its American style makes it one I won't play much; besides, I gave away my copy to someone who wanted it more. (Medium)
  39. Im Auftrag des Konigs - Neat game systems, but dry, dry, dry. This has been my general reaction to most Adlung Spiele games. I doubt I'll be buying many more as a result. (Medium)
  40. Candamir: The First Settlers - I love the gameplay, but it's too long. (Medium)
  41. Camelot Legends - OK, but a bit complex and a bit unwieldy. (Medium)
  42. Geschenkt - There's very little to this game, but it's a rare 5-minute filler, and it remains worthwhile at that length. Fits into my I-never-want-to-play-this-but-am-always-willing-to category. (Filler)
  43. Cloud 9 - Amazed I haven't played this much. It's a cute little game, but I guess doesn't have a lot of pull. (Filler)
  44. Buy Low, Sell High - A very clever Knizia game, but I don't have much desire to keep playing it. Too abstract? Too much counting? I dunno. (Medium)
  45. Fifth Avenue - I just can't find the fun in this game, though I'm willing to look again. (That'd be try #3 if I do.) A few more so-so games and it'd drop to the bottom of my list. If it weren't for aesthetic reasons (the Alea box) this might have gone on my trade list, and I definitely wouldn't keep trying to play it without my faith in the Alea brand. (Medium)
  46. Senator - Had a very bad first experience with this game due to the rules being misexplained, but I think there still might be a game here. (Medium)
  47. Oriente - This would be rated higher strictly on its playability, but I don't ever want to try and explain it again. (Medium)
  48. Easy Come, Easy Go - Light as air, but fun to play. (Filler)
  49. Farfalia - A pretty well-designed trick-taking game, but I don't see any particular reason to take it back out of the closet. (Light)
  50. Gloom - An amusing game that's only down here because it's not really my style. Nonetheless, one of the best American games of the last year, with my main concern being card readability. (Light)
  51. Empyrean Inc. - Nothing really wrong with the game, but it didn't thrill me. (Medium)
  52. Goldbrau - All that money counting (adding, multiplying, dividing) was just too exhausting for me, and I eventually traded the game for Tigris & Euphrates. (Medium)
  53. Wench - Once was about enough for me, unless there's booze involved. (Light)
  54. Mallworld - I think there's a neat game here, but I'm unwilling to hunt for it. My copy is available for trade.
  55. Station Master - Ugly components & lots of math ended up putting me off of this one. I gave it away, but it's one that I as easily could have kept. (Filler)
  56. Betrayal at House of the Hill - Not broken, but way too random to be much fun. Not a good design and not particularly nice bits. (Medium)
  57. Dancing Dice - A cute dice game, but nothing that made me want to play it again. (Light)
  58. LetterFlip - The letter selection method is just too hit and miss. (Light)
  59. Succession: Intrigue in the Royal Court - Just not enough to excite me to additional plays. American companies don't understand how to make auctions interesting. (Medium)
  60. Keythedral - One of my more expensive flops. Too chaotic to allow any real game play, and somehow boring too. I now have it on my trade list, and would love it to be yours. (Medium)
  61. Shakespeare: The Bard Game - Some somewhat broken gameplay put me off of this game. It's mainly going to get played in the future because my wife wants to. (Light)
  62. Submarine - Has a number of degenerate play possibilities that have pretty much put me off the game. A grave disappointment since I like most of Colovini's games. And just added to my trade list as a result. (Medium)
  63. Kung Fu Fighting - Very not my type of game: all color, no system. (Light)
  64. Fredericus - Unfortunately, too broken to maintain my interest. (Light)
  65. Creatures & Cultists - Played this in the new version, and it just seemed tedious. I liked it 15 years ago. (Medium)
  66. Mister Bill - This set of daVinci games was directed at younger kids. (Light)
  67. Fishing for Terrorists - Go. Fish. (Light)
  68. Moby Pick - Another light DaVinici. (Light)
  69. Abracadabra - Not fun. (Light)
  70. Caravans of Ahldarahd - So boring that I'm less willing to play it then entirely broken games. (Medium)
Interesting Stats

So how did the various publishers do?
Top 10Top 25
Abacus Spiele01
Amigo Spiele04
Days of Wonder22
Educational Insights11
Fantasy Flight Games12
Hans im Gluck22
Mayfair Games01
Mind the Move01
Out of the Box01
Phalanx Games12
Rio Grande Games36
Warfrog Games11
Winning Moves Games01
Wingnut Games01
Z-Man Games02

I was pretty arbitrary in what company I associated a game with. I listed coprintings under both companies (e.g., much of what Rio Grande and Mayfair does), but only listed the most recent printing for republished games (e.g., what Z-Man Games has been doing lately), and didn't include Phalanx or daVinci under Mayfair, since they're distributing, not publishing. Basically, I used what logos would be on a box. Also do note that the "Top 25" count is just a superset of the "Top 10" count.

I decided not include the "worst" stats on this list because if I get review copies from a company I'm much more likely to get a game that I don't have any real interest in, thus it would have unfairly dinged some companies who produce "games I don't like" as opposed to "bad games".

Of note:
  • An impressive showing for Days of Wonder, because they only produced 2 games in this time period (I think), and both made my top 10.
  • Rio Grande Games' record continues impressively enough that it can't be explained entirely by volume. And, I don't get review copies of their games; their count might have been even higher if I'd seen everything they produced.
  • Z-Man Games, just emerging into the Euro-games market, is someone to watch. To a lesser extent, Wingnut is doing some good things with their Tom Jolly line. Fantasy Flight Games is yet another U.S. publisher that seems to be trending upward (and, again, I don't think I play many of their good games because I don't see them all).
  • And to finish off the notes on American companies, Uberplay did have some good releases among their third batch of games, following a somewhat disappointing second batch (including all of those small Kosmos games).
  • Moving on to German originals, Amigo Spiele does better than I would have expected, producing good, though not great, games.
  • Hans im Gluck does a little worse than I would have guessed, producing great games, but not a lot, and nothing else.
  • For all their poor playtesting and awkward rules, Phalanx Games did produce two games that I consider worth buying (and I think they might be on an upward trend).


Coldfoot said...

Seventy games in one year! I'm very lucky to learn one new game each month and very often they aren't new releases.

And to think, I used to live in San Fran. I wasn't a boardgame fanatic then.

Shannon Appelcline said...

If I included non-new releases, I suspect I'd be closer to 100 last year;).

gamesgrandpa said...

Wow, most impressive! I, like coldfoot, do not have the opportunity to try a large number of new games each year (especially since I have to purchase them to do so). Additionally, I only purchase games for 5-6 players, which is somewhat limiting.

Your comments are most interesting, especially since Australia is on my "to-buy" list. I'm looking forward to it.

Thanks for all the great information.

Mario Aguila said...

In the Shadow of the Emperor must be Nº 1 and the boring Shadows over Camelot Nº 70