Sunday, January 07, 2007

Beyond Nickles and Dimes

No, I didn’t drop off the face of the Earth. December was a busy month: a new baby, holidays, and several grandparents to visit. However, I’m back now and hope that some regularity will resume with my biweekly scrivening.

It’s a new year and since many of the big boardgame conventions are in the late summer and fall, gamers tend to take the time to look back at the past year rather than ahead to games coming down the pike. Since the end of the year is often a bit heavier on game releases than the start, there is much less information to discuss than might otherwise be the case. In fact, some people consider the game year cycle to start and end in mid to late summer so that the ‘year’s’ worth of games can start and end with the fall crop.

Not one to buck too many trends I thought I would join in with the discussions, but I just couldn’t do it with a vanilla style. The games that I played the most over the past year are as follows:

  1. No Thanks!
  2. Bang!
  3. Tsuro
  4. Fairy Tale
  5. For Sale
  6. Puerto Rico
  7. Caylus
  8. Dragons of Kir / Darter
  9. Poison
  10. Bohnanza
  11. Eiertanz
  12. BattleLore
  13. Pepper
  14. Zendo
  15. Cartagena
  16. Citadels
  17. Nexus Ops
  18. Shear Panic
  19. World of Warcraft - The Boardgame

Unfortunately, that is a very unsatisfying list for me. The top five games were indeed played many times (for a total of 82 games), but they are all fairly short filler games. Clearly any game that is played the most throughout the year should indicate something significant, but should Poison be ranked just as high as Bohnanza just because I played it almost the same number of times? Poison takes much less than half the time to play than Bohnanza. In an effort to make a better evaluation of my gaming habits, here is a list of games for which I spent the most TIME playing. Now, I’m not so organized as to be able to log the time it takes me to play a game, instead I made an estimate average playing time for each game and multiplied it by the number of times it was played this past year. Lets take a look at the results:

1350 min Caylus - Coming in at #1 is quite an accomplishment for this game, as I purchased it in August at GenCon. It hit a sweet spot for me and the rest of my gaming group and it started a huge burst of boardgaming far and above our biweekly meetings.

1320 min Puerto Rico – This classic got in a number good plays, and it is also one of my most favorite games. Its ranking is slightly padded by a few online games played with friends. I included those games as they were all played with voice communication software, making it almost like playing the game together in the same room.

720 min World of Warcraft - The Boardgame - It doesn’t take many plays of this game to get a good time ranking. With a long setup time, it is hard to get this game to the table, as a couple quality shorter games could

450 min No Thanks! - I can’t believe I spent over seven hours playing this game. While I’ve now grown more abivalent to the game, I still carry it with me on many trips and outings as it is one of the first games I’ll try to teach to non-gamers.

450 min Bang! – This cardgame with Mafia/Werewolf style elements is a hoot to play, but I don’t care for larger games as they tend to wear on and individuals are eliminated early and end up with long wait times. However, it is a huge hit with the students at school and most of this time was logged last spring playing with the high school game club.

450 min BattleLore - Just released in December, I enjoyed this game enough to play it repeatedly. I’ll be working on a review soon, but it is my favorite of Borg’s wargame systems so far. There are indications of big plans for the game in its future, leaving many to wonder just what those might be. There are many potential directions the game could go.

450 min Axis & Allies (Revised) – I enjoy this game when played with a full five players. The ability to pick and choose what units to purchase as you plan your strategy is always fun for me. The game length is still a bit long, but is far more manageable now that the revised edition is out.

360 min Bohnanza - A great trading game that is often pulled out when playing with newer gamers. Has good opportuntities for socializing.

360 min Nexus Ops – I really enjoy this game and recommend it highly, particularly since it can currently be found at blowout prices. It contains many of the elements I enjoy in Axis and Allies (buying various specialty units) but can be easily played in just over an hour.

360 min Shadows over Camelot - I’ve mellowed in my liking of this game, as I also begin to see some of the limited choices. Still fun in the right group, but there isn’t as much strategy here as I would typically like. For cooperative games, I think I prefer the pure co-op of Lord of the Rings.

360 min Arkham Horror - While it was played only a few times, it was able to hop onto the chart due to the length of time needed to play. A fun co-op roleplaying style game, but simply must be played with four or fewer players or the length of the game gets far too long.

300 min Railroad Tycoon – I haven’t played Age of Steam, but I do enjoy this game. Easy to explain and then get playing, there is some definite randomness to the bonus points on the cards, but still a strategy game that will continue to hit the table (if the table is large enough.)

270 min Vegas Showdown – This has some nice strategy, and goes for a good price nowadays. Simple enough that it makes a pretty good gift to a more casual gamer. I like the auction mechanisms, although the theme and depth aren’t may personal favorites. (I like games just a tad deeper.)

240 min Citadels - This game got some good play simply due to its ability to accommodate a large number of players and the fact it can be played with many players in a reasonable amount of time. There is a fair bit of chaos due to the secret role selection, so some strategy purists aren’t fond of it. I enjoy it enough to play occasionally.

240 min Shear Panic – The cute pieces had this abstract game hit the table quite a few times. The theme and the pieces are enough to help this game to the table even if you’re playing with non gamers. My rural family enjoyed the game immensely even though developing a long term strategy can seem quite impossible at times.

240 min Goa – Another of my favorite games, it doesn’t hit the table often mostly due to the non-interactive style of gameplay and its use of auctions (which a few in my game group do not care for…)

225 min Tsuro – This is one great game. It is very short to play and is one of my favorite fillers. It would easily compete with No Thanks! For best filler this past year, but its box (which is actually reasonably small) keeps it from going everywhere with me.

220 min Fairy Tale – If I need a very portable game to play with gamers, I will bring this. A colorful deck of cards, drafting mechanism, and an moderate level of strategy combine into a fun game.

180 min Around the World in 80 Days – While I initially considered this game to be so-so, I’ve now placed it into the gamer-introduction category and it is a great fit.

180 min Dragons of Kir / Darter – When these two games are combined into one, they just make it onto the list. A fun two player game that has a lot of the feeling of RoboRally – one of my wife’s favorite games but not that fun unless there’s a crowd of players. I look forward to keeping this programming abstract game in our two-player rotation.

180 min Memoir '44 – Lots of expansions over the course of the year helped to ramp up my play time with this card-driven boardgame. With BattleLore now out, I think this one will tend to fall onto the back burner most of the time.

As a quick glance at the two lists can show, there are some dramatic shifts when time played is taken into account. However, I was surprised at how well the top few games held up when compared to much longer games. While I rarely played any of the lighter, filler games several times in a row, the short length of some of those filler games allowed them to be brought to the table (or bench or whatever) far more often. Looking forward to the new year, I am happy to have a regular boardgaming group that should help the number of plays for some of the longer games – we meet biweekly to play games in an open session and then on the off weeks tend to try to play particularly meaty and involved games with a much smaller subset of players.

I think ranking games by time played is far more fair than just counting games played. While shorter games will lose out on one hand, better games will make that up by coming to the table more frequently. The largest fault in the system probably lies in newer games that take a long time to play. One long game that takes hours to play might be tried several times before given the boot. In such a case, it might garner enough time to show up on a particular year’s time-based list. However, it would then fall off the next year’s chart.

As can be seen from the games I’m playing, I’m also ‘behind the curve’ when compared to the bleeding-edge Eurogame players. Many of the newer games I played this year actually appeared on the scene last fall. However, I tend to only play games once they’re officially released in the US. Some might also claim that is the result of a weaker year for new boardgames. While that might be true, I found more than enough new games (or new games to me) to keep me happy and gaming for some time to come. Hopefully I’ll be ready when the next big crop of games appears on the US gaming horizon….

1 comment:

Dave Wilson said...

I, too, find I'm generally a year behind schedule when it comes to the newer titles. I like to wait and see what evolves in a game's literature (blogs, session reports, reviews, etc.) before committing to a purchase.